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Iodine likely caused purple emissions from Portland waste plant, operator says

Officials at the ecomaine waste-to-energy plant in Portland say that a purple vapor seen coming from one of its smokestacks Thursday morning was likely vaporized iodine.

Ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche says the colored fumes were probably caused by a load of waste that contained iodine. He says plant employees noticed the vapor, and were able to correct the situation in 2.5 hours.

Vaporized iodine can pose health risks if inhaled, but ecomaine says it's unlikely that anyone was directly exposed.

Iodine is commonly used in pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, feed supplements and photographic chemicals, and has caused similarly colorful emissions at other waste-to-energy facilities in the U.S.

Ecomaine, which serves 73 communities, says the unwanted iodine underscores the importance of disposing of solid waste in accordance with state and federal standards.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.