Residents Evacuated as N.C. Waste Plant Burns

An estimated 16,000 residents living near Apex, North Carolina, have been asked to evacuate or remain inside with their windows shut following a fire at a hazardous waste plant that produced a low-hanging cloud of black smoke.

Officials warned residents in the town of about 30,000, which is southwest of Raleigh, that the smoke from the fire is dangerous because it contains pesticides, chlorine gases and other pollutants.

According to local reports, more than 100 people have been hospitalized with respiratory problems.

The Apex business district and all schools have been closed.

The plant is owned by Environmental Quality Industrial Services, which processes waste. According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, the company was issued safety violations in March related to inadequate handling of chemicals.

Due to the nature of the chemicals involved, firefighters said they must let the fire burn rather than pour on water, foam or other materials which could only worsen the situation and create more of a risk for firefighters as well as residents.