Residents of a rural Alabama county are grappling with the effects of a fire at an underground landfill that has been smoldering since November. The fire at the privately owned Environmental Landfill, Inc. has produced toxic smoke that has affected nearby residents and their health, causing nosebleeds, headaches and breathing difficulties.
The landfill, located in the unincorporated county of St. Clair, is only supposed to legally accept green waste, such as leaves and fallen trees. However, officials have identified unauthorized destruction at the landfill, including household appliances and tires, contributing to the hazardous fumes. The site is privately owned and not subject to government regulation as it officially accepts no hazardous waste.
Local residents in the area have reported that the ongoing fire is making them ill. Some have bought air purifiers for their homes, sealed their windows and doors to keep the smell out, and even left the area entirely. In an interview, local resident Brice Armstrong said spending time outdoors is now difficult because of the fire. “The smell has become terrible. It’s getting into the house,’ he said.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Protection has asked the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and help put out the fire. Local authorities have limited capacity to fight the fire and hope EPA’s involvement will help bring it to an end. The support is significant because the landfill fire is underground, which can expose first responders and firefighters to hazards such as flaring up or collapsing.
However, some locals want Alabama authorities like the Department of Environmental Management to take responsibility for how long the fire has lasted. They are angry that they have been exposed to fumes for two months. “[ADEM is] is to protect us and the environment and they have allowed this tragedy to continue for so long,” said Jennifer Lewis of the area. “I also want the property owner to be held accountable for what they are allowed to do.”
The situation in St. Clair County is a reminder of the importance of proper waste management and holding those responsible accountable for their actions. We must take steps in our communities to reduce waste and support sustainable practices. In addition, we must advocate for stricter regulations and enforcement to ensure the health and safety of all residents. Let’s take action and make sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.
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