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Nox-Crete Fire: Chemical, runoff questions remain 10 days later

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-13 16:08:52-04

Friday 6/10 Update: According to documents uploaded to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy website Friday morning, Nox-Crete provided a list of chemicals of high quantities in the warehouse at the time of the fire late Thursday afternoon. See this story for more information.

Monday 6/13 Update: Nox-Crete told NDEE on Thursday that they believe the blue color to the runoff was caused by a dye stored in the warehouse, according to copies of emails uploaded to the NDEE website on Monday. The company had previously told NDEE they believe it was caused by a foam used by firefighters, but the Nebraska State Fire Marshal's Office told NDEE "they were unfamiliar with firefighting foam that could cause this coloration."

Original story

Almost immediately after the Nox-Crete warehouse fire that burned an unknown amount of chemicals, liquid from the fire started flowing into Omaha's sewer system.

As of Thursday, a small amount of water is still trickling into a storm drain outside of Nox-Crete. It's been that way for a while, according to documents.

Documents publicly released by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy show a fairly large amount of blueish-tinted water going into the drain the day after the fire. It's also stained the concrete.

Those same documents show that on May 31, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy suggested cleaning up 20th Street using an absorbent. Nox-Crete said they’ll power-wash it instead, which the state responded to by saying that runoff needed to be captured.

A day later, documents claim that staff for NDEE still saw the blue liquid runoff emptying into the storm sewer. The next day, on June 2, an email shows Nox-Crete was prepared to begin cleanup immediately once approved by the state.

On June 3, NDEE witnessed power washing at the Nox-Crete site with the runoff going into the storm drain.

A smaller amount of runoff went into the storm drain a week after the fire on Monday.

On June 7, an absorbent material was placed down. Only a trickle of runoff could be seen entering the drain. 3 News Now observed absorbent material at the site on Thursday.

The inspection report from Tuesday also says Nox-Crete has ordered absorbent barriers that are expected to arrive by the end of the week.

The public relations firm handling relations for Nox-Crete did not respond to requests to comment as of early Thursday evening.

NDEE was asked by 3 News Now if they had concerns about the runoff into the storm drains and told us they could not respond by Thursday but hopes to have more by Friday.

The City of Omaha issued a statement soon after the Nox-Crete fire, saying that drinking water was not impacted.

While it’s unclear what chemicals went into the sewer system, the documents say the City of Omaha believes the wastewater treatment plant can handle it. The May 31 NDEE report also mentions it is Nox-Crete's responsibility to clean up, according to the publicly available documents.

3 News Now also reached out to the City of Omaha’s Public Works Department but did not hear back.

What was in the warehouse?

Douglas County Health Department and Omaha Professional Firefighters Association President Trevor Towey confirmed Thursday Nox-Crete had not yet provided them a list of what precisely what in the warehouse when it burned on Memorial Day.

There is, though, a list of all chemicals at the facility for any amount of time in 2021. It gives an idea of what could have been there during the fire. Even if all the chemicals on the list were at Nox-Crete on Memorial Day, which is unlikely, the facility has a western building that did not burn in the fire, but also stores some materials. There is also a 'Notice of Environmental Concern' document that lists some chemicals that may have been present. Both can be found here.

"What happens when you combine those chemicals? It's just the unknowns," said David Corbin, head of the Nebraska Sierra Club's legislative committee and a former health professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

The possible combinations of hazardous materials is another reason why a list of chemicals involved in the fire is critical.

"Sometimes they cancel each other out," he said. "Sometimes ... they make things worse."

Fifty-six of the 89 chemicals on the list are listed as an "aspiration hazard." Each chemical is marked for risks, such as if it's a carcinogen or flammable.

Firefighters report medical concerns

Towey, the fire union president, said he's seen no indication a list is coming soon.

Some firefighters have sought medical attention, he said. He's having the inventory list of chemicals at the facility in 2021 evaluated.

Inspection reports from after the fire are below, in chronological order

Inspection from May 31, the day after the fire, dated June 3:

Report from June 1:

Report from June 3:

Report from June 6:

Report from June 7:

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