An underground landfill fire has been smoldering since November, creating toxic smoke that has affected nearby residents in a rural Alabama county. Officials have called in the help of the Environmental Protection Agency to find a way to extinguish the fire.
The fire at the Environmental Landfill, Inc., dumping ground has been mostly underground in the unincorporated county of St. Clair. It’s about 15 miles northeast of Birmingham, between the suburbs of Moody and Trussville. Residents in those areas have said that the ongoing fire is making them sick, AL.com reported
The landfill is supposed to only legally accept green waste like leaves and fallen trees. But officials have found unauthorized waste at the landfill, like household appliances and tires, which are contributing to the dangerous fumes. The site is privately owned and is not under any state regulations because it does not “officially” take on hazardous waste, the Associated Press reported.
The fumes from the fire are affecting locals. Some residents have purchased air purifiers for their home, along with sealing their windows and doors to keep the smell out, AL.com reported. Some have left the area entirely.
In an interview with AL.com, area resident Brice Armstrong said spending time outside is now difficult because of the fire. “The smell has been getting really bad. It’s getting in the house,” Armstrong said in an online video. “There’s a lot of times that we can’t do what we want to do just because of the smell.”
Jennifer Lewis, another area resident interviewed in AL.com video, initially moved to the county because she thought it would be a peaceful place to live with her family. Had Lewis known that unauthorized items had been illegally dumped in the landfill for years, she would have never moved to that area, she said. “Every single person in my house has health issues from this,” she said. “We’ve had nosebleeds, sore throats, burning throats, headaches.”
Alabama officials have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and help them extinguish the ongoing fire. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced this week that the agency has begun working with local groups to put out the flames. Local agencies have limited capacity for handling the fire and hope that the EPA’s involvement will help bring an end to it.
“Neither ADEM nor the county has the experience or expertise to put out a fire of this nature,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a press release this week. “The EPA utilizes contractors with experience and knowledge to do this type of work. ADEM and state and local officials have concluded the most effective and safe way to extinguish the fire is for the EPA to lead the effort, and we have entered into an arrangement with the EPA to make that happen.”
The support is especially important because the landfill fire is underground. This can expose first responders and firefighters to hazards like fire flare-ups or cave-ins, the AP reported.
Some locals want Alabama agencies like the Department of Environmental Management to take accountability for how long the fire has persisted. They’re angry that they’ve been exposed to fumes for two months. “[ADEM is] supposed to be protecting us and protecting the environment, and they’ve let this tragedy go on for so long,” Lewis said. “I also want the property owner to be held responsible for what he’s allowed.”