Multiple investigations are underway and La Salle residents remain unsettled and concerned for their health after a massive fire at a chemical plant Wednesday morning in their neighborhood resulted in giant smoke clouds traveling through the air, chemicals landing on their homes and property, and a shelter-in-place order that lasted nearly seven hours.
"I had this purple stuff all over my face and in my hair,” La Salle resident Jamie Hicks told NBC 5 Wednesday.
“I called City Hall, the police department and I asked what’s the protocol? This is what happened to me. This is what’s on my porch. I know what it is. What do we do?” Hicks continued. “We don’t have a protocol. We have a chemical plant in the middle of a residential neighborhood and you have no protocol?”
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According to La Salle police, around 9 a.m. Wednesday, an "explosion" occurred in a shipping container in the shipping department of the Carus Chemical Plant, located at 1500 8th Street in LaSalle, located about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.
Multiple emergency crews from La Salle county as well as neighboring jurisdictions responded and worked to put out the fire, which authorities said resulted in no serious injuries.
However, potassium permanganate, a greenish, pinkish- "oxidizer," had been released into the air as a result of the fire, officials said, which rained down on cars and homes in the area, as well as on residents themselves.
"It literally looked like it was raining green food coloring," said witness Ronda Louis, who was driving on Interstate 80 when she said the substance covered her windshield. "I guess the best way to describe is almost a shamrock green that was coming down on the windshield."
In response, the La Salle police department released a statement Wednesday warning residents to not touch the chemical, offering instead a recipe to "deactivate" it.
"Attention LaSalle residents of the 3rd and 4th Wards," the statement read, "due to recent events, an oxidizer (which appears green in color) has been released in the area. Do NOT touch this substance. If you see this substance near or on your residence it can be deactivated."
The statement then goes on to instruct residents on how to deactivate the substance, saying "in order to deactivate it, you will need a 1:1:1 mixture of: 1 gallon water, 1 gall of peroxide, 1 gallon of vinegar."
John Anderson, a chemist with the University of Chicago Department of Chemistry, "cautioned" people to clean up the substance themselves, saying "it is reactive and can cause burns if you get it on your skin."
"Even if it is dilute, it can stain your skin, almost like a Henna tattoo," continued Anderson, who is not related to any investigation into the matter.
According to authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency had also been called to the scene, and had installed air monitoring equipment in the area.
According to officials, multiple investigations are underway into the cause and potential environmental impacts of the event. Officials with the City of La Salle are scheduled at 2 p.m. Thursday to provide an update. NBC 5 will stream the update in the player live when it begins.
Carus, a family-owned manufacturer of chemicals products founded in 1915, "supplies products and services for municipal water treatment, wastewater and air purification and soil remediation," the company says.
An August 2022 report from the NewsTribune in La Salle County says that in August, Carus, a "family-owned manufacturer that provides products and services used globally for water treatment, wastewater, air purification and soil remediation," announced a $20 million expansion of its manufacturing plant.
According to the report, the plant was to be modernized, and have a "higher capacity for production. Construction work as part of the expansion was expected to be completed by the end of the year.