INDIANAPOLIS — After a large fire at a Plainfield Walmart distribution center, an investigation is ongoing into potential environmental impacts.

After the fire, there were concerns about the air quality due to the smoke and debris. This prompted an air quality action day. Fire departments also voiced concerns about the ash and debris coming from the fire, warning people to not pick it up as it could be toxic and contain carcinogens.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called in on Wednesday to support the Plainfield Fire Territory and help the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for air monitoring. They set up a network downwind of the facility to monitor the potential impacts of the fire.

The EPA was particularly focused on the finer particulate matter, which is a cause for major health concerns. High fine particulate matter values were monitored in the area.

The Indianapolis Office of Sustainability says air pollutants like ozone and particulate matter pose a public health and environmental justice issue as they can cause increased hospitalizations, asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and premature death, according to the American Public Health Association. 10.9% of Indianapolis residents live with asthma, and 8.6% of Indianapolis residents live with COPD; both these figures are higher than the national average.

They are continuing to provide daily information to the Indiana State Department of Health and local health departments for recommendations on protective measures. This includes people that are still where the smoke is lingering should wear N-95 masks to protect themselves.

On Thursday, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management released a statement, saying crews are assessing runoff from the fire.

IDEM Emergency Response staff are on site to assess and address fire suppressant water runoff. IDEM will continue to provide support to the local health and fire departments.

As a precautionary measure, IDEM says outfalls from the onsite stormwater retention ponds have been plugged to control discharge to Clarks Creek. This creek runs near the distribution center. IDEM says on-site staff have not observed any runoff or negative impacts to aquatic life in the creek.

Citizens Energy Group does not expect the ash and debris to impact the water supply because the water is drawn about 15 feet below the surface. They are doing extra water quality sampling to confirm there are no unexpected impacts to water quality.

The EPA released some answers to frequently asked questions. You can find those answers below:

  • Thick smoke from the Plainfield warehouse fire contained high levels of fine particulate material (PM). Exposure to high levels of PM may cause health problems for sensitive individuals, particularly people who have pre-existing cardiovascular or lung problems, such as asthma, but also young children and the elderly. Therefore, sensitive individuals should take precautions to avoid areas where there is visible smoke.
  • Anyone who may have been exposed to the smoke and is experiencing health problems should contact their medical provider.

Response agencies are actively monitoring and sampling the air to determine the chemicals that may be present in the smoke. Based on current information, the main concern is the inhalation of fine particulate material (PM) in the smoke. In addition to particulate material, agencies are monitoring for other compounds but there are no concerns identified with other compounds at this time. Any additional information from air monitoring activity will be used to inform updated recommendations to the public.

  • Avoid smoky areas when possible.
  • Wear an N95 or KN95 to provide respiratory protection from the fine particulates in the smoke if available. A cloth mask does not provide the same level of protection.
  • Shower regularly.
  • Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend wearing gloves when handling debris or cleaning ash from surfaces.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and lukewarm water throughout the day when cleaning.
  • Remove large pieces of debris from yards or properties using gloves or a shovel and place in a garbage container.
  • If you need to clean debris or ash, wearing an N95 or KN95 mask will provide protection from inhalation of particulates.
  • Try to avoid walking or driving on the material.
  • Do not let children play in or with items covered by the ash or debris.
  • While outside playing or working in the yard, avoid hand to mouth contact and wash hands upon returning indoors.
  • Clean toys, swing sets, patio furniture, BBQs, pools and spas before use in accordance with recommendations provided below.
  • Dogs should be kept on leash when outside in debris-impacted areas.
  • Do not let pets drink water from puddles, or drink water or eat food that was outside during the incident.
  • If dogs or cats get ash on their paws or bodies, wash it off promptly.
  • If pet toys were outside, wash them before use.
  • If clean-up must be performed in high traffic outdoor areas, water down all visible ash with a garden hose. Do not use leaf blowers or other methods that may cause ash or debris to become airborne.
  • Hard surfaces (tile floors, countertops) can be wiped down with soapy water and rinsed. Uncovered kitchen items (pots, pans, flatware) should be washed with soapy water or run through the dishwasher.
  • To clean swimming pools or spas, remove/skim debris, recirculate through the filters, and perform routine pool maintenance (pH levels, etc.).
  • Individuals should remove visible large particle debris from yards using gloves or a shovel and place in a garbage container.
  • Discard any food that may have been exposed and cannot be thoroughly washed prior to consumption. Empty and clean outside pet food and water bowls.

Wear protective clothing when cleaning surfaces that may contain soot that deposited from the fire. This includes gloves and if available, a N95 or KN95 mask to protect yourself from the inhalation of particles.

Remove any floating debris along the shore or bank using gloves or a skimmer and dispose of it in the trash.

Clean or replace your HVAC filter to ensure that it is working efficiently and effectively. When removing or cleaning air filters, it is recommended to wear a mask and gloves. Turn on the system’s “fan” or “recirculate” option to circulate the air in your home through the filter. If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper.

Citizens Energy Group does not expect ash and debris from the Plainfield warehouse fire to impact water supply from Eagle Creek Reservoir for its nearby T.W. Moses Water Treatment Plant because water is drawn about 15-feet below the surface. Citizens Energy Group continuously monitors the quality of the water coming into the treatment plant and throughout the treatment process. As a precaution, the utility is doing extra water quality sampling to confirm there are no unexpected impacts to water quality.

Anyone with additional concerns or questions, please reach out to their local health department. The Hendricks County Health Department has a dedicated number for questions relating to the fire that can be reached at 317-718-6052.