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Planned burn of Highview home raises questions about air quality, health

After the city announced a controlled burn of a home filled with hazardous materials, WHAS11 received questions about the health implications of burning chemicals.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Tuesday, the city announced it had ordered a controlled burn of a Highview home which was found filled with hazardous materials and explosives. 

WHAS11 received many questions from viewers and neighbors about what will happen to the chemicals when they are burned. 

Mayor Craig Greenberg said a controlled burn is the only path forward because the home is a "hoarder" house, packed with debris in addition to dangerous chemicals and explosives. 

Executive Director of Emergency Services Jody Meiman said those conditions make it unsafe to manually remove the hazardous materials inside. 

"We're going to do everything we can to keep not only the community but our responders safe," Meiman said. 

Dr. Monica Unseld, with Until Justice Data Partners, worries burning the chemicals could spread them into the air. 

She said conditions on the day of the burn will be a determining factor. 

"It really depends on the weather and the wind speed and those are things that we won't know until it's done unfortunately," Unseld said. 

According to an affidavit ordering the burn, the home contains both "primary and secondary explosives" and "over 20 different chemicals." 

One of the chemicals mentioned at Tuesday's news conference is a potential explosive called picric acid. 

"A normal structure fire is already toxic. Firefighters have higher rates of cancer due to the chemicals in our buildings," Unseld said. 

Meiman said the crews in charge of the burn will wait for a day with low humidity and calm wind conditions, in an effort to mitigate the outward spread of the smoke. 

He said getting the fire to a very high heat is also a goal, to burn off the chemicals contained in the home.  

"It will consume the chemicals that you see inside of there. It's just like a chemical fire that you would see somewhere else offsite, whether it's a tractor-trailer or a chemical facility, a lot of the product is consumed in the fire," Meiman said. 

Meiman said emergency teams don't yet have an exact idea of how far the smoke from the burn will travel.

He said crews will be putting air quality monitors throughout the neighborhood and will plan an evacuation if necessary. 

Given the uncertainties involved in planning the demolition, Meiman said emergency officials will also craft backup plans. 

"If we've got to relight the fire, or it doesn't take off like we expect it to, that's where the experts are going through and making sure we have the right components," Meiman said. 

Unseld said her group is gathering health resources for the community online. The city has also created a website to provide updates

A community meeting will be held next week to let people know about the controlled burn and answer questions. 

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