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EPA To Fight Fires And Test Air Quality At Landfills in Johnston, R.I

Release Date: 03/19/2003
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will be taking actions to control the subsurface fire at the Green Hill Road landfill in Johnston, R.I. EPA will also be testing airborne concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in neighboring areas to evaluate health risks.

These concurrent projects involve two properties on Green Hill Road in Johnston. The New England Ecological Development (NEED) is a construction and demolition landfill and recycling facility at 23 Green Hill Road that had its operating license revoked by the state in 2002 for environmental violations. A nearby property, at 20 Green Hill Road, is an unlicensed landfill containing the same construction and demolition debris. Since October 2002, the Johnston Fire Department and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) have been responding to surface fire breakouts at the 20 Green Hill Road site.

EPA has been assisting the Fire Department and the DEM at the 20 Green Hill Road site by providing air sampling and subsequent laboratory analytical work, thermal infrared photography, thermal monitoring, and contingency planning. EPA has also brought a landfill fire expert from California to the site to provide his recommendations for continued response activities.

The removal action announced today allows EPA to allocate further resources to the fire, beginning with an initial allocation of $150,000. EPA contractors have installed eighteen monitoring wells to monitor subsurface temperatures at the site and help track of the fire's movement, and have been extinguishing minor outbreaks over the past week. EPA will be working with consultants, the DEM and the Johnston Fire Department to develop and implement a long-term strategy for controlling the fires. EPA is considering options that include: digging firebreaks; covering known hot spots in the landfill with cover material to shut off oxygen supplies that fuel fires; and excavating hot areas, extinguishing the smoldering or burning material, and restaging it on-site.

"Thanks to a lot of hard work by the Johnston Fire Department and R.I. DEM, this fire is under control enough that it does not pose an immediate danger to the public," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England Office. "We'll be continuing to keep it under control while working on a long-term solution."

The nearby NEED site is believed to be releasing hydrogen sulfide fumes. Therefore, at the request of the R.I. DEM, EPA announced today that as part of a separate action it will be testing concentrations of airborne hydrogen sulfide emissions both on and off-site to evaluate any public health risks, and determine if action needs to be taken to reduce emissions. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can result in eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs. Long-term, low-level exposure may result in fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness.