April 14, 2023

City releases evidence showing Richmond plastics recycling business was a fire hazard

Listen at IPB News

Article origination IPB News
An aerial view of the plastics recycling business My Way Trading in March of 2019. The warehouses from the former business caught fire in Richmond displacing more than a thousand residents and sending harmful smoke and debris into the air. - All Pictometry/Beacon / Courtesy of the City of Richmond

An aerial view of the plastics recycling business My Way Trading in March of 2019. The warehouses from the former business caught fire in Richmond displacing more than a thousand residents and sending harmful smoke and debris into the air.

All Pictometry/Beacon / Courtesy of the City of Richmond

On Friday morning, officials in Richmond said the fire at a former plastics recycling business is under control, but not fully extinguished yet. They expect it will smolder and smoke for several days. The fire displaced more than a thousand residents and sent harmful smoke and debris into the air.

Some residents want to know why the fire couldn’t have been prevented.

The business that used to own the warehouses, My Way Trading, had a history of safety violations — including fire hazards. The city of Richmond made several legal documents available this week.

In a PowerPoint presentation provided by the city, the site looked more like a scrapyard than a recycling business in 2019. Photos show wet and decaying cardboard boxes sitting outside, filled with every kind of plastic you can imagine — several of them are tipped or spilling over. Some of the material is simply dumped in an unorganized pile.

Among other things, court and city documents said all of that plastic and trash was blocking building exits, the sprinkler system wasn't working, and fire extinguishers were placed on the floor where they could be knocked over. The buildings themselves also needed several repairs.

In 2019, the city of Richmond's Unsafe Building Commission ordered the company to clean up, demolish or otherwise vacate the property. The issue ended up in Wayne County Circuit Court, which affirmed the commission's decision in March of 2020.

Richmond city attorney A.J. Sickmann said the city bought part of the property to get access to some of the buildings to begin the cleanup.

He said the city also agreed to allow My Way Trading to sell some of the plastic in the warehouses to remove the waste — but the company had trouble selling the plastics during the pandemic.

Sickmann said cleaning up the 14-acre facility was also a massive undertaking. As a result, it was still full of plastic and other material at the time of the fire.

“Right now, the focus has been on the site and the health and safety of the residents. When we are past that, and hopefully that’s in the near future, my focus will shift towards — to a legal lens and I’ll be in contact with his legal counsel," Sickmann said.

Sickmann said the unsafe building order still stands, so the responsibility remains with the former owner of My Way Trading.

 

 

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues.

Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire. Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said the fire consumed almost everything in the warehouses.

Brown said once the smoke isn’t drifting into neighborhoods, the city will consider whether residents in the evacuation zone can return to their homes.

We couldn’t reach the owner of My Way Trading for comment.

A community help line for Richmond residents is available at 765-973-9300 and the city of Richmond’s website.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele

Copyright 2023 IPB News. To see more, visit IPB News.

 

Support independent journalism today. You rely on WFYI to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Donate to power our nonprofit reporting today. Give now.

 

Related News

Waste-to-jet fuel company likely won’t place plant in Gary, after years of plans
Todd Young's bill to add more federal judges advances through U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee
Having trouble with your AES bill? Here’s how long it’ll take to fix.