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LaSalle residents shelter in place after Carus chemical factory fire

Photos taken by WCMY News Director Rick Koshko from the Carus Chemical fire that started just before nine this morning.
Photos taken by WCMY News Director Rick Koshko from the Carus Chemical fire that started just before nine this morning.

A large fire engulfed the Carus chemical plant in LaSalle Wednesday morning. Residents say the blaze caused several loud explosions. Massive plumes of black smoke rose into the sky from the factory.

Rick Koshko is the news director at WCMY radio. From live at the scene, he told WNIJ that firefighters were still spraying down the east side of the complex but looked to have the fire more under control by 10:30 a.m.

"We have heard that there are no people missing or unaccounted for," said Koshko.

There were no workers or first-responders seriously injured.

He said citizens who live in the city's 3rd and 4th wards were told to shelter-in-place, but never told to mask themselves to protect from potential chemical pollution. There were no evacuation orders.

Police say that the fire began in the Carus plant's shipping department.

Just after 10:30 a.m., LaSalle Police Chief Mike Smudzinski told Koshko and the crowd in front of the factory to move a block to the west away from the fire.

"They are going to be bringing in a HAZMAT control unit to suit some people up and go check some things out," said the WCMY radio director from outside of the factory. "So, now they are a little bit concerned about what they have."

The Carus chemical plant produces potassium permanganate, which is used for wastewater treatment. It also manufactures phosphates, polymers and other chemicals.

LaSalle Police said the fire also released a green substance that fell on area houses and cars. Police say not to touch it, but that it can be washed off with a mixture of equal parts water, peroxide and vinegar.

Bob Johns is a LaSalle resident who lives just under a mile from the factory. He says he woke up to a text from his daughter that she could see black smoke from outside of her high school classroom window.

He went outside to see the smoke and heard several loud explosions. His neighbor thought it was thunder.

The city called to tell him to shelter-in-place. He says right now he's not too concerned about chemicals in the air where he lives.

"Honestly, I imagine but if I was down closer, like within a few blocks, maybe I'd be a little more concerned," said Johns. "I know they've asked us not to touch any of the purple and green stuff that may be landing on our houses and cars."

At a 4 p.m. press conference, Robert Kondreck with the U.S. EPA said they’re conducting air monitoring on the area with results coming soon.

Some residents said they have too much of the potassium permanganate on their property to wash off on their own. Kondreck asked them to contact the agency.

Kondreck said, based on their first assessment, it doesn’t appear that the substance got into the Vermillion River.

Allen Gibbs, a Carus chemicals representative, said he would feel comfortable letting his dogs outside with the substance around and that staining is the biggest concern at this point.

A National Institute of Health study found that ingesting potassium permanganate can be harmful.

Carus has set up a hotline for people impacted by the fire at (815) 224-6662.

There will be another press conference at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.