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Precautions continue following Husky fire

Large plumes of black smoke continue to rise during a series of fires and explosions at the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior on April 26, 2018. (News Tribune file photo)

The Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services is recommending people take extra precautions while gardening in the wake of last month's Husky Energy refinery fire in Superior.

Petroleum or asphalt fires produce chemicals that are similar to wood smoke and vehicle exhaust. Smoke and ash from the fire can travel long distances and contain various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, some of which can cause cancer, the department said.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not found any soot deposits in the area to date, any ash or soot found "can be safely washed from surfaces using normal cleaning methods," according to the department.

"Although it is unhealthy to breathe the compounds in smoke, the potential for harm is much less once these compounds are in soil," the county said in a release. "The compounds from smoke are commonly found on the ground, even in rural areas. These have been left over many decades from forest fires, vehicle exhaust, and industry."

Plants won't likely take up the sooty compounds in soil, but they could stick to root crops. The department suggests limiting contact with compounds with the following tips:

• Wash your hands after working in the yard

• Wash fruits and vegetables to remove soil and dust

• Peel root crops such as potatoes, carrots and radishes to remove garden soil before eating

Monitoring ongoing

Air quality tests conducted since the April 26 fire — the cause of which remains unknown — continue to show no "elevated levels of emissions above health-based thresholds," according to Superior Mayor Jim Paine's office.

Water has shown trace amounts of perfluoralkyl sulfonate, a chemical found in firefighting foam, which the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been made aware of.

"There has been no observed impact to fish or other aquatic life in the onsite storm water ponds or Newton Creek as a result of the incident," Paine said in a news release. "Water monitoring continues."

There has been two documented impacts to wildlife — a deceased common grackle and a deer with oil staining on each of its legs. The deer will be monitored but not tranquilized as "it is not showing negative impacts," the release said.

Electricity has been restored to several buildings at the refinery, where 316 employees and contractors are on site each day. An additional 90 people are staffing the Emergency Operations Center on Hammond Avenue and 37 workers are monitoring the air, processing claims and cleaning debris. It is possible debris contains asbestos, the city said, though none has been detected to date on the mineral wool and foam insulation that scattered largely to the southwest.

Those with debris on their property, or with other claims to make, can call Husky at 1-855-527-5002. The company requires a liability release for injury claims that would prevent future legal action against the refiner.

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