PLAINWELL, Mich. (WOOD) - An investigation was already underway at Plainwell's Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. Tuesday after a fire and several explosions Monday and early Tuesday.
The evacuation order for residences and businesses a quarter mile northeast of the chemical waste disposal facility was lifted around 5 p.m. Residents may return to their homes. Workers may also return to other businesses in the surrounding industrial park.
However, Oak Street and Broad Street remain closed until further notice.
The fire and hazardous materials on the site have been confined, according to Sgt. John Varley of the Plainwell Department of Public Safety. Hazmat teams were still investigating and cleaning up Tuesday.
Varley said crews waited for analysis of chemicals in the air and water to confirm it was safe for residents to go home.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took digital samples of the air, and captured some of the smoke that was still billowing off of the plant Tuesday afternoon in a vacuum container that they sent to a lab in Lansing. Mark DuCharme of the DEQ said they were looking for gasses -- for example -- chlorine and hydrogen cyanide.
"We are using our monitoring equipment as a gauge of where we should be and where we shouldn't," DuCharme said of the small digital air monitoring equipment he and his staff carried around the area near the plant.
The tests confirmed the air is safe.
"It's considered safe for everybody," Varney told 24 Hour News 8.
The DEQ and EPA also checked the water in the area, but said they are not seriously concerned about potential contamination there.
"This place is all fairly well sealed. If it spills, it ends up in containment. That's a good thing," DuCharme explained. "So we don't really have to worry about things like groundwater contamination, although we will take some samples of some mud puddles and stuff to make sure there isn't any impact."
DuCharme said there was one potential puddle that could have been runoff from the plant's roof.
Varney said there will be much more testing in the future, but said the emergency part of the fire was pretty much over.
Crews continue to monitor the chemical waste disposal site, and Varney said a fire crew will stay on the scene for now, just in case of another flare up.
Taiton Adams, who works in Plainwell, said she was drawn to the chemical waste disposal site on Broad Street when she saw black smoke Monday just after 3 p.m. She was only yards away when she felt an explosion and smelled the aftermath.
"It was a plastic-burning, almost metal-smoky smell. No chemical smell. It was more of a plastic-burning, metal smell," she described.
She took the smell as a sign to leave the area quickly.
"We figured we need to get out of here because we don't know what's going up in the atmosphere," she said.
The cause of that smell isn't yet known.
"They're still testing to find out what it was," Varney said. But at this point, officials believe, "No one was harmed by it."
The company, Drug and Laboratory Disposal Inc., was initially planning to have no disruption in their services, but released a statement Tuesday evening saying that they have now "temporarily paused the receipt of waste," and plan to resume business as usual July 1.
24 Hour News 8 called several phone numbers for the company on Tuesday, but each was busy. Officials on scene said that the company was cooperating with their emergency and clean up efforts. There will be no criminal investigation into the fire. There may be an investigation through the DEQ to see if the plant violated any regulations.
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