Mountains of dense trash burned for nearly five days last week at a Scott Waste Services transfer station in Auburn. Now, state officials are trying to figure out what the incident means for the environment, and some community members are wondering what it means for their health.
The Scott Waste Services transfer station caught fire the night of June 3 and was extinguished by Friday morning, according to Eddie Hanks, president of environmental consulting company TPM Inc., which operates a facility on the same grounds as the transfer station.
“Scott Waste Services personnel worked around the clock tending to that,” Hanks said.
Ty Bowman, operations manager for the Auburn facility, did exactly that.
“It made for a rough week,” said Bowman, who spent 91 hours last week in a dust mask tending to the heavy flames and smoke. “Everyone was worn out by the end of the week. But everyone is in good spirits now, ready to get back at it.”
Trash collected from nearby counties is brought to the Auburn facility and then transported to the 800-acre Hopkins County Landfill in White Plains. Bowman estimated that the roughly 10,000-square-foot facility could hold up to 200 tons of trash in a given day. The facility might have had higher-than-normal levels because of the recent Memorial Day holiday, with some trash piles towering over 12 feet, according to Bowman.
Ed Bartley, an electrician with Stewart Richey Service Group, worked to bring temporary electricity back to the site Monday. He also visited the site Thursday and quickly decided it was a bad idea at that time to try to work in those conditions.
“You couldn’t even breathe here. It’s not worth dying over. It’s a pile of garbage,” said Bartley, who added that he could smell the smoke from South Union Shaker Village about a mile away.
On Monday, algal blooms clouded puddles around the facility. Bowman suggested the blooms were “pretty normal” near the facility.
State officials are “aware” of the algal bloom and are “looking into the possibilities,” said Robin Hartman, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Algal blooms can be toxic to people and animals and often indicate the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus from pollution sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The state has collected samples from nearby water supplies and currently awaits the analysis.
The state did not monitor air quality. The closest air monitoring station to Logan County is in Franklin, and it solely measures ozone. The next closest monitoring station is in Smiths Grove, according to Hartman.
This worried nearby residents.
Bonnie, a nearby resident who preferred not to use her last name, expressed concern for the children and health-compromised individuals who were exposed to the smoke.
“We’re concerned. No one had told us anything,” Bonnie said. “There are homes up here that have children,” which sometimes includes her granddaughter, who has leukemia.
Without an official health warning, Bonnie said she had to rely on her own judgment to keep her grandchild indoors while babysitting last week.
On Monday, a foul odor whipped through her property with every gust of wind. Last week, Bonnie could smell the odor from her workplace in South Union.
Bonnie worries that smaller towns such as Auburn might be left out of environmental health monitoring efforts.
“Stuff never gets tested,” she said. “No one has been in our yard … smelling what I’m smelling.”
Over the next several weeks, Scott Waste Services will rebuild the structure and aims to resume operations within the next week, according to Bowman.
Through this experience, Bowman suggested that he learned the importance of having a fire hydrant close by. The closest fire hydrant was half a mile away, he said.
A front-end loader inside the building caught fire first, but the official investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing with the Auburn Fire Department.
– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggers dailynews or visit bgdaily news.com.