Fire at Alabama Landfill Raises Concern About Gaps in Regulations.

shows smoke billowing from the Environmental Landfill, Inc. site.

(Credit: Moody Fire Department, Facebook)

by | Mar 17, 2023

shows smoke billowing from the Environmental Landfill, Inc. site.

(Credit: Moody Fire Department, Facebook)

In recent years, the importance of eco-friendly waste management has become more apparent than ever. However, not all waste management facilities operate with environmental responsibility in mind. In this case, the Environmental Landfill was only supposed to be taking in Vegetative waste- downed trees, stumps, and natural materials.  Records from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) show that the landfill took other debris, including treated power poles, scrap metal, tires, and used appliances.

Landfill Regulation Not Consistent

Many states do not require landfills rated for Vegetative waste to manage fires or gas levels, a practice more common in landfills handling toxic waste. In addition, ADEM doesn’t consider environmental vegetative waste harmful–nor does the EPA. As a result, materials such as storm or yard waste are low on their priorities list, with most landfills opting to prevent fires by covering each day’s waste with a thick layer of dirt.

Landfills with more regulations have systems in place to measure heat and gas levels. However, vegetative waste/green waste landfills are unregulated. The fact they are unregulated is the source of the problem, as even green waste can still cause adverse health effects when it catches fire.

The operators of green waste landfills often aren’t pressured to take measures that can prevent fires. Landfill owners and operators don’t have enough science-based information or support to avoid disasters. Owners need to be taught how yard debris breaks down as leaves and branches decompose, creating heat that, left unchecked, may start a fire.

In essence, green waste becomes a massive compost pile, and increasing heat and gas from decomposition act as the catalyst for underground fires that can last months or longer. “Just continuing to pile up green waste isn’t a safe method,” Rouzbeh Nazari, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s civil engineering department and School of Public Health, commented. Adding, you need to be mixing the waste with enough soil to prevent combustion.

Learning from Incidences Like the Alabama Fire is Key

ADEM asked the EPA to sample air at the site after the fire had been burning for more than a month. The results showed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and synthetic compounds such as trichloroethylene and freon. The heightened levels of some of these chemicals finally prompted the EPA to get involved in mid-January.

Lack of regulation is to blame for the Environmental Landfill staying open for so long. As is a lack of consistency at agencies, and local officials are unaware of who has authority over the fires. Unfortunately, fires like the one at the Environmental Landfill are often beyond the scope of local firefighters’ resources.

As the US population continues to rise, so does the need for landfills. Resulting in a greater risk of fires in the future. The key to preventing future fires lies in better management and more significant regulations.

Furthermore, open and transparent communication between scientists, regulators, and landfill owners will help mitigate future environmental incidents. The EPA expects to distinguish the fire at the Alabama landfill by the end of March.

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