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NC zinc plant says it’s safe for people to return home after fire made air toxic

Community evacuation ordered after zinc plant catches fire in N.C.

People living within a half mile of a burning zinc processing plant in Mooresburg, NC in Rutherford County were told shortly after 2 a.m. Monday that they should leave their homes. Photos show billowing frames and plumes of smoke.
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People living within a half mile of a burning zinc processing plant in Mooresburg, NC in Rutherford County were told shortly after 2 a.m. Monday that they should leave their homes. Photos show billowing frames and plumes of smoke.

After more than 24 hours, residents who live near a fire-damaged zinc processing plant in North Carolina are being told it’s safe to return to their homes.

The evacuation order was put in place by Rutherford County officials around 2 a.m. Monday, after a fire at the American Zinc Recycling plant in Mooresboro caused toxic sulfuric acid to be released into the air. The evacuation included all homes within a half mile of the plant.

“The situation at the facility and surrounding neighborhood is now stabilized following the precautionary evacuation of 48 families by Rutherford County Emergency Response officials over concerns of potential exposure to resulting smoke and airborne emissions,” American Zinc Recycling said in a statement Tuesday.

“Based on tests performed by emergency officials of air samples for various air pollutants — including sulfuric acid — at various locations surrounding the facility, we understand that exposure of sulfuric acid emissions at the monitored levels does not pose a health risk to citizens in the community.”

Rutherford County Emergency Management officials said in a Facebook post that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was assisting in monitoring air quality around the plant, 65 miles west of Charlotte.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sulfuric acid can harm the skin, eyes and lungs, and “severe exposure can result in death.”

Local officials became concerned about the air when tests showed gear worn by the dozens of firefighters on site “tested positive for hazardous materials,” WSOC reported.

A temporary shelter was set up at the Chase High School auxiliary gymnasium, officials said on Facebook.

Rutherford County Assistant Fire Marshal John Greenway told Fox Carolina on Monday that the biggest environmental fear is sulfuric acid that has been released into the air.

American Zinc Recycling said in a statement Monday that it is cooperating in state and local investigations into the cause of the fire.

No employees were injured in the fire, the company said.

The plant is owned by American Zinc Recycling Corp, based in Pittsburgh, and produces “special high grade zinc,” according to the company.

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