Federal health agency investigates health risks from Moody landfill fire
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This is a Your Voice Your Station Special Report.

MOODY, Ala. (WIAT) — Since the EPA moved in to put out the Environmental Landfill Fire, the agency reported it’s been working with the ATSDR, or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The ATSDR told INTERNEWSCAST their work is still in its early stages, and they’ve found elevated levels of certain chemicals.

“Coughing, nosebleeds, congestion. It’s been awful,” said Sherry Hawkins. She lives across the street from the landfill, that’s been burning for more than two months now.

Hawkins explained the smoke has died down after the EPA took over. With less smoke in the air, she feels her health is improving. Still, she fears potential long-term health effects.

“I think it’s going to have a lot of impact on a lot of people, especially the elderly people. I have a lot of asthma, I’ve had sinus surgeries,” she told INTERNEWSCAST.

We requested an interview with the ATSDR, which is managed by the CDC. The agency responded to us with this email:

“On 1/16-17/2023 ATSDR reviewed air sampling data collected by EPA on 1/6-7/2023. While the initial results from air monitoring showed certain chemicals were above ATSDR minimal risk levels and EPA regional removal management levels, this was only an initial sampling event, which did not contain enough information to determine any potential for long term exposure. 

ATSDR minimal risk levels are screening values ATSDR uses to determine if more evaluation is needed. Levels above a minimal risk level are not necessarily harmful; the potential for harm depends on how high the levels were and how long the exposure lasted, along with personal traits and habits.”

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) Executive Director, Michael Hansen, said the particles in the air from landfill fires can be very dangerous, especially when exposed to over a long period of time.

“Particulate matter is one of the most harmful things you can breathe in. Fine particulate matter can get into your airways, and into your bloodstream and then can wreak havoc on your body on your respiratory system, your cardiovascular system and your entire body can be affected,” Hansen explained.

Last week, ADEM told INTERNEWSCAST in an email, the chemicals detected at the site are what allowed them to bring the EPA in to help. It read in part, “…air monitoring showed contaminates consistent with a wood fire, including benzene (common in wood fires) at a home closest to the site and Trichloroethylene on the disposal site itself.”

According to the ATSDR’s website, Benzene is a known carcinogen. It can cause leukemia and several other serious health effects when exposed to over long periods of time.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is an industrial solvent and carcinogen. ATSDR reports there is a strong connection to TCE and several different cancers.

INTERNEWSCAST has also submitted an FOIA request to the EPA for the full list of chemicals detected at the site. We are still waiting on that report and will publish it when we receive it.

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