MOODY, Ala. (AP) — The cost of extinguishing a landfill fire that’s been burning since late November in Alabama’s St. Clair County is now at an estimated $2.8 million, federal environmental regulators said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a budget increase for the project this week that would raise how much the agency can pay a contractor to put out the fire by about $900,000, al.com reported. The new estimated external costs are now approved up to $1,529,316, with the total costs for the project to EPA now estimated at $2,806,345.
The money will come from EPA’s regional funds for emergency response. The agency can later attempt to recover those costs from the responsible parties through enforcement actions.
The underground fire was first reported Nov. 25 at the landfill, which takes in tree limbs and other vegetative waste. It has been burning since late November, sending smoke over some neighborhoods in the state’s largest metro area and leaving residents frustrated by the lack of action. The EPA took over the response to the fire, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northeast of Birmingham, on Jan. 19 after air samples showed elevated levels of potentially dangerous chemicals in the area.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency the day before.
Some residents near the site, estimated at a little over 20 acres, have fled their homes and others have reported symptoms, including headaches, coughing, red eyes and breathing problems.
The fire is located at the Environmental Landfill, Inc., which was largely unregulated by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management because it was only supposed to accept green waste, such as fallen trees or other vegetation. However, ADEM inspectors and neighbors have reported finding materials such as tires, roof shingles, construction waste, electronics and other unauthorized materials at the site.
The site’s waste pile is 100 feet (30 meters) deep in some places.
The EPA’s current strategy is to cover the fire with a layer of dirt to extinguish the flames.
“Generally in a landfill situation, you try and snuff it out,” EPA On-Scene Coordinator Terry Stilman told AL.com last week.
The agency is currently using heavy equipment to grade the site and bring in cover dirt from outside sources.
The EPA has set up air monitoring stations that check constantly for the concentrations of particulate matter showing how thick the smoke is. In addition, the EPA says air samples are collected daily and sent to a laboratory for analysis of potentially harmful chemicals that might be in the smoke.