Gov. Ivey issues limited State of Emergency in St. Clair County to address Moody landfill fire

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 1:34 PM CST
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MOODY, Ala. (WBRC) - On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Governor Kay Ivey issued a limited State of Emergency to give officials in St. Clair County all possible legal authorities for use in dealing with the ongoing fire.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will share details on the EPA now being able to take the operational lead on this response soon.

Governor Ivey issued the following comment:

The limited State of Emergency can be viewed below:

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management released the following statement in response to the limited State of Emergency:

“In response to the underground fire at a privately operated vegetative waste disposal site near Moody in St. Clair County, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management began collaborating early on with local authorities and the U.S. Environment Protection Agency about the best course of action to extinguish the fire and eliminate the smoke that has concerned many area residents. It was important to include the EPA given the fact that neither ADEM nor St. Clair County has the experience, expertise or oversight responsibility to lead this effort.

Part of that collaboration was having the EPA perform air testing at and the near the site using an advanced mobile air monitoring unit, since ADEM does not have access to such a unit. ADEM is doing the water testing in nearby streams to determine what impacts if any were being caused by the fire.

ADEM also put the St. Clair County Commission in contact with companies with experience in putting out underground fires. However, because neither the County Commission nor ADEM has the necessary expertise to judge which proposed method of extinguishing the fire is the most appropriate, it was determined that the EPA, which has experience overseeing efforts to deal with fires of this nature using outside contractors, will take the lead in this effort. The EPA will determine the most appropriate method to extinguish the fire, hire a contractor from its list of qualified vendors to perform the work, and oversee the process.

Because the fire is on private property, it has not yet been determined who ultimately will be responsible for paying the EPA’s costs in putting out the fire. The EPA, as is its policy, is expected to seek reimbursements for its costs from the operator of the site.

Here are some important facts about the response to the fire:

  • From the beginning, ADEM has made extinguishing the fire a top priority. The nature of the fire poses extreme hazards to firefighters and other responders due to the risks of cave-ins and flare-ups, and the volume of vegetative matter that has been buried at the site over the years.
  • The EPA’s involvement came at the request of ADEM with the concurrence of local officials due to the health and environmental concerns.
  • The site is on private property in an unincorporated part of St. Clair County, and was being used for the disposal of vegetative matter (leaves, limbs, trees, shrubs and similar materials). Like state environmental programs throughout the nation and the EPA itself, ADEM does not have regulatory authority over vegetative waste. Under specific conditions, ADEM does have the authority to take enforcement action for the unauthorized burning of vegetative waste.
  • After past ADEM inspections found unauthorized waste materials (non-vegetative) at the site, ADEM issued notices of violation to the operator, and the operator took steps to remove the unauthorized materials. This was verified by follow-up inspections.
  • It is not known at this point how long it will take to put out the fire, but using EPA contractors is the quickest and safest way to put the fire out.
  • ADEM and the EPA will continue to monitor for air and water impacts from the fire.
  • Preliminary air sampling by the EPA taken at on-site and off-site locations detected constituents that are mostly consistent with wood fires. The EPA will do additional sampling this week.
  • ADEM is also performing additional water testing this week.
  • Once the fire is out, ADEM will take appropriate enforcement actions against the private operator of the site. Such actions could involve penalties for impacts to air quality and open burning violations.

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