Equipment Used to Clean-Up Junk Ditch Toxins to be Tested Soon

By Peter Neumann
By Rachel Martin
By John W. Davis
By Scott Sarvay
By Maureen Mespell

November 3, 2011 Updated Nov 3, 2011 at 2:13 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Crews are on scene at the Junk Ditch, near the site of the Momper Insulation Fire, setting up equipment to get rid of toxins in the stream.

They will likely begin doing test runs late Thursday afternoon to make sure the equipment is working properly.

Toxins including cyanide ran into the ditch while fire fighters put out the blaze that destroyed the warehouse.

Fort Wayne’s drinking water is safe, and as of Wednesday, there were no toxic levels found in the Saint Mary's River.

Crews hope to begin filtering, by Friday.

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I-DEM officials say if contractors do not begin filtering the water Wednesday, they will find someone else.

Filtering the water in Junk Ditch was supposed to begin Wednesday, but contracting crews are behind schedule.

The Junk Ditch water is contaminated with isocyanates, more commonly known as cyanid, but some viewers are concerned the toxins actually got into Fort Wayne’s drinking water.

To make it clear St. Joe River is not effected by the toxin or run-off from the fire meaning Fort Wayne's drinking water is safe.

I-DEM officials say they've recently tested water in the St. Mary's around Junk Ditch, that river is no longer contaminated.

The only water that is affected by the toxic run-off is the water in Junk Ditch and it's actually testing at lower levels.

Currently crews are setting up plumbing and testing the flow rate of the water.

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The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has confirmed that isocyanates, more commonly known as cyanide, has been detected in the Junk Ditch But behind the Momper Insulation building on West Main Street in Fort Wayne.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management On-Scene Coordinator Rich Hackel told Indiana's NewsCenter that contaminants are five times above the acceptable levels of that particular toxic chemical.

Hackel said IDEM was "okay" with that because the number one concern on Sunday for the Fort Wayne Fire Department was saving lives and getting the fire under control.

He said environmental concerns were secondary at the point.

Investigators said the cyanide made its way into the water when firefighters poured thousands of gallons of water on the Momper Insulation Fire.

The water made its way through the burning building and picked up the chemicals from damaged containers.

The runoff water carried the chemicals into the Junk Ditch.

For a few hours on Sunday, the contaminated water ended up in a creek, eventually mixing with Saint Marys River.

However, city leaders said once they realized the runoff water contained more than water, they began to block off the ditch, damning it by Sunday evening.

The man made damn will prevent any further contamination of the Saint Marys River.

At this time, IDEM believes the environmental impact to the Saint Marys River will be minimal.

Meanwhile, with the fire barely smoldering, clean up efforts will ramp up within the next 24 hours.

"Actually at this point what we're most likely going to be doing is filtering the water," said Indiana Department of Environmental Management On-Scene Coordinator Rich Hackel.

"The water will be taken out of the ditch, most likely and filtered. The discharge from it, the filters with absorb the chemicals and the water will be discharged at the acceptable levels," Hackel explained, when question if IDEM was content with their current contingency plan.

If breathed in cyanide, can impair your respiratory system making it very difficult for your body to process oxygen.

Some forms of cyanide has also been used in the past to as a main ingredient in chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources told Indiana's NewsCenter that many fish in that area died because they were exposed to the toxic chemical.

However, city leaders want to remind residents that Fort Wayne drinking water is safe because that water comes from the Saint Joe River, which has not been contaminated.

On Sunday, Indiana's NewsCenter reported that the black, acrid smoke contained potentially harmful particles, and people were advised to stay away.

Firefighters had to decontaminate equipment exposed to the smoke. Even as the fire is brought under control, monitoring stations are being set up to check air quality for the evening and night.

Around 6 p.m. Monday, city, county and state leaders held a news conference to share the latest information with local members of the media.

We have attached the entire news conference to this story.




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