~ Threatens persons with respiratory issues ~
PHILIPSBURG–Heavy smoke from a fire at the Philipsburg landfill affected residents in several districts over the weekend.
The fire began on the landfill late Friday evening and immediate efforts began by the landfill management with the assistance of the Fire Department to put out the blaze by dumping dirt/sand over it. This resulted in thick smoke moving from the dump through several districts over the weekend, prompting the Fire Department to urge residents to close their doors and windows to avoid the smoke.
Fire Officer on duty Silvanico Pauletta told The Daily Herald on Sunday that the Department had conducted tests to determine the immediate hazard levels of the smoke emitting from the dump, but found the levels to be below the “alarm” level at the locations checked.
He was quick to add that although the levels were not alarming, the smoke still could have posed a threat to persons with respiratory issues, hence the advisory. He said also that the Fire Department was only equipped to test the immediate hazard levels of smoke coming from the dump and noted that determining the long-term effects was a responsibility of the Health Department.
Several persons took to social media from early Saturday to vent their frustration about the dump being on fire yet again. Many persons expressed frustration with the constant fires at the landfill and many questioned the potential health risk it poses to residents.
All smoke is toxic, Pauletta noted. “Even barbecue smoke is toxic. It is not healthy to stand in the smoke and seeing that at the dump has many different materials and especially if anything is oil-based and burning, it would be toxic.
“What the Fire Department does is check to see whether there are toxic levels that are of immediate danger, but it’s the Public Health Department that is responsible for looking at long-term effects. We don’t have equipment to measure particular particles that could have long-term effects on health and to know what exposure over a couple of years can cause. We can look at immediate hazards.”
Pauletta said the Fire Department had received a call seeking its assistance for a dump fire around 11:00pm Friday. On arrival, the Department helped to provide accessibility for heavy equipment to access the fire to cover it with dirt/sand. Efforts to completely cover the fire with dirt concluded on Sunday. Authorities continue to monitor the situation.
The Department issued an urgent advisory on Saturday urging persons living downwind from the landfill fire to close their windows and doors, especially persons who suffer from asthma, shortness of breath, or any other respiratory issues. At one point the smoke from the fire was affecting Sentry Peak, Cole Bay and the Cul de Sac basin.
Pauletta said authorities are so far unaware of the source of the fire. He said the Police Force, which is responsible for forensics, has been officially informed of the fire as it is responsible for investigating this. If the expertise of the Fire Department is needed and requested the Department will assist in this process.