Moody Landfill Fire Now a Federal Affair as EPA Is Called in to Extinguish Nuisance

The underground fire at an environmental landfill in Moody is contained and currently not threatening nearby houses. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The landfill fire in Moody is now a federal affair.

At the request of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will lead the effort to put out the underground fire at a privately operated vegetative waste disposal site near Moody in St. Clair County, the agency said in a press release Wednesday.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued a limited state of emergency Wednesday to give local officials in St. Clair County all possible legal authorities to deal with the ongoing fire.

“By authorizing the EPA to respond to this fire, we are ensuring it will be addressed in the fastest and safest way possible,” the governor said in a statement. “It is imperative that this situation be solved and solved right for the sake of the folks in Moody and all people affected by this fire. I am pleased at this next step, and to ensure we are doing everything possible from the state level, I am also issuing a limited state of emergency for St. Clair County to give local officials another layer of support as they deal with this fire.”

In its press release, ADEM said it began collaborating early on with the EPA, the St. Clair County Commission and other local and state authorities about the appropriate course of action to take to extinguish the fire and eliminate the smoke that has raised concerns among area residents. 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.

“Neither ADEM nor the county has the experience or expertise to put out a fire of this nature,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in the release. “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 fire has been burning for about two months and irritating residents as far as Mountain Brook. Residents have been complaining not just about the smell and the smoke, but about health effects such as asthma, coughing and nausea.

ADEM said in its release that the agency has from the beginning of the fire made extinguishing it a top priority. But the underground 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. ADEM has no staff or vendors it works with that can handle this type of fire.

LeFleur said ADEM has taken numerous steps to assist local leaders, including putting the St. Clair County Commission in contact with companies with experience in putting out underground fires. St. Clair County officials, who have been evaluating proposals from the companies, agreed this week that turning over the lead for extinguishing the fire to the EPA is the best option given its experience resolving these types of issues.

“We stand ready to assist the EPA in whatever manner we can,” County Commission President Stan Batemon said in the ADEM release. “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,” Batemon continued. “We believe this is a major step forward in identifying the best solution and taking action.”

At ADEM’s request, the EPA has performed air testing at and the near the site. In addition, ADEM is doing water testing in nearby streams to determine possible impacts from runoff from the fire site. It is not known at this point how long it will take to put out the fire, or who ultimately will be responsible for paying the EPA’s costs.

The EPA is expected to seek recovery costs from the private operator of the site. Once the fire is out, ADEM will take appropriate enforcement actions against the operator. Such actions could involve penalties for impacts to air quality and open burning violations.