First, I want to express our sincere empathy and concern for those who have had their lives upended by the fire at the vegetative waste disposal site near Moody. We know many have been affected by smoke. Some have had to temporarily move to avoid exposure. We have heard people’s frustrations – and we share them.
From the beginning, we recognized the best way to protect their health and safety is to put out the fire and thus eliminate the smoke as quickly as possible.
To that end, from the moment the fire was reported to us, ADEM has been actively involved in efforts to extinguish the fire. ADEM immediately engaged with the Moody Fire Department, the Alabama Forestry Commission, the St. Clair County Commission, the State Emergency Management Agency, the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency and others. Unfortunately, none of us has the resources or ability to extinguish an underground fire of this nature.
We also reached out to the EPA to ask for assistance. Because the fire involved vegetative materials not subject to either state or federal regulations, the EPA said at the time that it lacked authority to take action. ADEM persisted, however, and asked the EPA to deploy its advanced air monitoring units to clearly determine the level of risk that smoke from the fire posed to public health. The EPA agreed, and its tests found the presence of four chemicals above the accepted minimal risk level on the fire site itself and two of the chemicals above the accepted minimal risk level offsite at a single home about 300 feet from the fire.
As unwelcome as that finding was, it did allow ADEM to then ask the EPA to take the lead in extinguishing the fire. Unlike state or local agencies, the EPA does have resources and contractors on retainer with the expertise to tackle an underground fire like this one. The EPA agreed, and work to put out the fire began January 19.
Work is proceeding well. Smoke from the fire has been greatly reduced. EPA expects the fire to be out in a matter of weeks if not sooner.
We want the public to know that ADEM personnel are on site every day. We are providing regular updates to the public at MoodyFireUpdate.com. In addition to the air monitoring at the six nearby stationary monitors and the EPA mobile air monitors, the Department is monitoring water quality. Test results show the fire does not appear to be having any discernable effect on water quality. We will continue to monitor water quality and report our findings along with air monitoring results.
As we have stated before, ADEM will investigate and take appropriate enforcement action against the site operator after the fire is out.
This fire is an extraordinary event. It exposed shortcomings in the ability and authority of state and local governments to respond to situations that are outside the scope of regulated activities but nonetheless pose risks to the public. We are in talks with representatives of county governments and other agencies about ways to close these gaps.
Our goal, as always, is to protect the health and safety of our citizens and the environment, and to make sure we have the tools and authority to do so. We must work together and do all we can to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.