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EPA takes charge of Alabama landfill fire after state request

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The Environmental Protection Agency is taking over extinguishment efforts for a landfill fire in Moody, Alabama, federal officials announced Thursday.

The landfill has been burning since Nov. 25, producing smoke that has sickened local residents.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday called a state of emergency due to the blaze.

“EPA’s first priority is to ensure the wellbeing of the residents. … The community wants to see action and are understandably concerned about the landfill fire’s impact on their health, safety and quality of life,” EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman said in an announcement from the agency.

The underground blaze is consuming vegetation disposed at the site, along with other non-organic materials, producing the smoke. 

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management called in the EPA, having exhausted state-level options, due to the federal agency’s greater capabilities.

“Neither ADEM nor the county has the experience or expertise to put out a fire of this nature. The EPA utilizes contractors with experience and knowledge to do this type of work …The most effective and safe way to extinguish the fire is for the EPA to lead the effort,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a news release from the agency.

Officials in St. Clair County, site of the landfill, concurred with the ADEM assessment.

“The most important thing is putting the fire out as fast as possible and bringing relief to residents in communities being affected by the smoke. The county is limited in what it can do. The EPA is clearly in the best position with its knowhow and resources to handle the fire,” St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon said.

The EPA decided to intervene based on the landfill’s air samples, which showed a heightened presence of carcinogens benzene, which can cause leukemia, and trichloroethylene, which can cause kidney cancer.

“The levels of benzene and trichloroethylene, TCE, in the air samples were above our risk-based numbers,” EPA on-scene investigator Terry Stilman told Alabama news site AL.com.

Whereas benzene can be produced by natural processes, including the burning of vegetation, TCE is a man-made chemical. 

“TCE itself is not indicative of green material. So we don’t know exactly where that comes from. … We don’t exactly know what the material is that’s burning that’s causing that,” Mr. Stilman explained to AL.com.

Residents, meanwhile, are continuing to endure the health effects of the smoke.

“You wake up at 4 a.m. in the middle of the night and you smell burning rubber. There was even an [asthma] episode where I had to call the paramedics,” Breanne Cook, whose family was forced to evacuate due to the smoke, told WBRC, a Birmingham Fox affiliate.

While officially, the privately owned landfill is for vegetation only, residents claim to have seen plenty of man-made products at the site causing hazardous smoke.

“I’ve seen tons of tires on that property. I’ve seen PVC pipe, plastic, appliances, aluminum siding. … There is a ridiculous amount, a super hazardous level of carbon dioxide in the air, but also benzene, acetone and other things,” St. Clair County resident Brittany Jones told Courthouse News.

A timetable for when the fire could finally be extinguished has not been determined.



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