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No Toxic Chemicals Found In Air Samples Taken Following Massive Junkyard Fire In Southwest Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Hazmat officials are monitoring air quality following a massive junkyard fire in Southwest Philadelphia. Philadelphia Public Health officials announced Wednesday afternoon air samples taken following the fire found no toxic chemicals, but there is a "particulate matter" in the air from the smoke.

"Fire Update: Samples taken from the fire have found NO toxic chemicals at levels that would be harmful to your health," Philadelphia Public Health wrote in a tweet. "However, there is still particulate matter in the air from the smoke. People who are near the smoke or haze should limit their time outside, especially if they have heart or lung problems. Due to the weather, this situation could last through the night."

Health officials announced they would be testing the air quality Wednesday morning, advising people with health issues to remove themselves from the area.

"We are currently testing air samples for toxic pollution, and will update when that's finished. In the meantime, people with heart or lung problems should avoid exerting themselves in areas with smoke, haze, or smell from the fire," Philadelphia Public Health wrote in another tweet.

tire fire chopper

Eyewitness News spoke with an air quality expert from Drexel University about the fire.

"Use the monitors across the city to have a sense of quantitatively what are we exposed to," Shannon Caps, a Drexel University assistant professor, said. "But when we taste or smell something that seems like it might not be very favorable, it's a good indicator that we should probably go inside, close the windows and turn on an air purifier if we have one."

Philadelphia Fire Department Captain Derek Bowmer said just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, more than 75 firefighters battled an inferno at the Delaware Valley Recycling Center.

"Wood, tires, things like that, when they break down houses -- looks that's what's in the piles," Bowmer described Tuesday night to the media.

After several hours, the raging fire became a slow burn until it was contained. However, the smoke continued to linger throughout nearby neighborhoods, forcing residents to shelter in place.

On Wednesday morning, a haze could be seen in the city.

south philly fire next day

That dark, thick air that covered Interstate 95 and the Schuylkill Expressway was soot and debris from tires. Bowmer said gaining access to the center was not easy. Teams were forced to pump in water from the air and ground.

In the meantime, health officials said people with heart or lung issues, should avoid exerting themselves in areas with smoke and haze.

There is no word on when the report would be finished.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who runs the district where the fire took place, released a statement about it Wednesday afternoon:

"The junkyard fire that took place in my district last night was downright horrible. Many of my constituents, along with residents around Philadelphia and even in New Jersey, experienced physical reactions due to burning tires and heavy smoke.

There is no question in my mind that this should have been handled differently. Last night, as the fire was burning, there was no emergency communication from the City on what was happening, the potential risks, and how residents should keep themselves safe. In the midst of a dangerous event that went on for hours, and continues to affect air quality today, that is unacceptable. After the last couple years, it should be painfully obvious that transparent, regular communication is key to maintaining public health.

My team is going to be sitting down with the appropriate City agencies to figure out exactly what happened here, and to ensure it doesn't happen again. I also commit to working with community members and our City partners to get hazardous waste, including tires, out of our neighborhoods. We realize this is an important quality of life issue for residents of the 3rd District, and will do everything we can to address it."

CBS3's Wakisha Bailey contributed to this report. 

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