A pink, powdery substance on her dark blue Pontiac Bonneville was enough to alert Cherie Copeland that there was something amiss on Saturday.
"I had just gotten home and I saw this stuff all over my car, and I was like, 'What the heck is that?'" Copeland said Sunday.
Copeland, of 1115 Ohio Ave., was not the only East Liverpool resident with questions following Saturday's accident at Heritage Thermal Services, a waste incinerator company formerly known as Heritage-WTI, that released ash into the air. Many were left wondering what the substance was and if it was harmful to their health.
Photo by Stephen Huba
The hood and roof of Cherie Copeland’s car, like many cars in East Liverpool, were covered by a pinkish substance following a release of ash from Heritage Thermal Services on Saturday.
"I need to know what this is," said Teresa Fristick, another Ohio Avenue resident who witnessed the ash cloud. "What did I just breathe into my lungs?"
Fristick said she was walking her 80-year-old mother to her car after doing her hair when she heard a sound like a firecracker, only louder. Not long after, a cloud with particles and flakes in it blew down her street, she said.
"It was quick. It blew by very fast, like there was a force to it," Fristick said. "Maybe 15 to 30 seconds. In that time, it completely covered everything."
Authorities believe the ash from the accident was deposited as far north as Pennsylvania Avenue and as far west as D.W. Dickey & Son Inc. on Elmwood Street.
East Liverpool fire Chief Bill Jones said the substance will be tested by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, but he's not sure when the results will be available.
Heritage spokesman Raymond J. Wayne said the accident happened at 1 p.m. Saturday during the course of "routine incineration operations," when a large amount of ash fell from several interior walls of the incinerator.
"The volume of ash was larger than the ash-removal system could handle and an undetermined amount was deposited outside of the incineration unit," Wayne said.
Because the ash has a high metal content, Jones advised East End residents to wash fruits and vegetables from their gardens and replace food and water for pets and farm animals. Jones could not specify the metallic content in the ash, and Wayne could not be reached for comment.
The ash and steam cloud was caused by a "vapor explosion," Jones said, that resulted when molten material fell into a large tank of water.
Heritage Thermal Services, located at 1250 St. George St. for more than 20 years, processes about 60,000 tons of hazardous and non-hazardous waste a year.
Disposal is done through a rotary kiln incineration process where temperatures reach anywhere from 1,800 to 1,950 degrees.
Most of the waste comes from chemical manufacturers, refineries, the health care industry, colleges and universities and the pharmaceutical industry, according to the company.