Alabama regulators, emergency responders, state legislators and local government groups said today they will study the state’s response to a landfill fire near Birmingham, which has been burning since November, to see whether state laws or regulations needs to be changed or not.
“It’s up to us to find out from A to Z, where do we start, what happened, where did we fail?” said Sen. Lance Bell, R-Pale City, which represents the district that includes the landfill.
“We have to make sure it works better for our citizens.”
State officials announced the formation of a working group to study the situation Friday morning at a news conference at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management headquarters in Montgomery.
The fire was first reported on November 25 at the Environmental Landfill, Inc., about 15 miles northeast of Birmingham, between the suburbs of Moody and Trussville. was found in
In the initial response to the fire, local officials including the Moody Fire Department and the St. Clair County Commission assumed the primary roles of responding to the fire, with ADEM acting in an advisory capacity. Local authorities had no experience in dealing with this type of situation, and there was often confusion about who was in charge.
“The government failed to keep the people living in that area safe from the products from that fire,” Bell said after the press conference.
,[The fire impacted] Their homes, their vehicles, their clothes, but more importantly, their health,” Bell said. “We have to do a better job, and I hope that together with this group, we can do a better job and address those issues.”
ADEM does not regulate “green waste” landfills, such as burning, even though unauthorized materials were found at the site until repeated fires broke out.
Smoke enveloped nearby communities for weeks, leading to reports of health problems such as headaches, breathing problems, runny nose, and trouble sleeping. Some residents left their homes to escape the smoke and others resorted to DIY air purifiers and used painters tape to seal their windows and doors to keep out the smoke.
The US Environmental Protection Agency responded to the fire on January 18, after air samples near the fire showed elevated levels of known carcinogens. The EPA is still working to contain the fire, but the amount of smoke billowing from the site has decreased since the agency’s arrival.
According to ADEM, the group will “assess whether changes to laws, regulations and resources are needed” to better respond to future emergencies.
“The underground fire was an unprecedented event that unfortunately affected many residents,” ADEM director Lance LeFleur said at the news conference. “This showed a gap in the authority and capacity of both state and local government agencies to respond and deal effectively.
“No agency in the state had the resources or expertise to put out such a fire.”
LeFleur said at the news conference that the group has no timetable for making its recommendations or for changes to laws or regulations.
“We don’t want to put a deadline on this,” LeFleur said. “We are all committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that we address the entire situation.”
Working groups include:
EPA responds to Alabama landfill fire