A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Environmental Landfill, Inc., in St. Clair County, where an underground fire has burned since December 2022.
Candice Jackson and Emmanuel Gomes are homeowners that live near the landfill. They say their families and property have been impacted for weeks after years of complaints and concerns about the impact of the landfill.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence, wantonness, trespass, public nuisance, abatement of public nuisance and battery. The plaintiffs are asking for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an injunction requiring the landfill to cease operations and provide further relief, including court costs.
The plaintiffs claim the landfill, located at 1317 Annie Lee Road, has been operating illegally for years. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has said the site was a fire hazard, but nothing has been done to stop the operation.
According to records with ADEM, a complaint was filed in January 2013, but ADEM did not take action because the report stated it only "observed multiple piles of tree cuttings and vegetative debris on the property."
However, another complaint was filed in November 2013, and at that time, ADEM issued a notice of violation to the property owner. In the comments section of the report, the inspector stated, "I observed construction/ demolition waste, scrap tires and shingles dumped, intermingled with tree cuttings and partially covered on parcels … This site is a potential fire hazard due to the presence of a smoldering area adjacent to regulated waste."
The ADEM inspector described the operation as an "unauthorized solid waste dump" and was again called to the property in September 2014. More illegal materials were found during that inspection, including treated power polls, household trash, scrap tires and more, according to an ADEM inspector. Similar inspections by ADEM were performed in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, with the same results. Although the property owner removed some debris from the property, the ADEM inspector still called the area a fire hazard.
The lawsuit states a final inspection was performed in August 2022, just months before the underground blaze ignited.
The fire has been burning for more than 50 days, and residents in surrounding areas have complained about air quality issues affecting their health.
Jackson claims she is unable to enjoy being outside, and her property has been contaminated with soot and ash from the fire.
"Because of the black smoke and white smoke that continues to be emitted from the fire, Plaintiff Jackson and her family have suffered physical injury, including soreness in their throats, their eyes are burning, and they are having shortness of breath," the lawsuit states. "Plaintiff Jackson has suffered mental anguish as she worries about the health of her family and the damage to her home."
Gomes' suit said his two children "suffer from diagnosed asthmatic issues, and they have suffered from severe asthmas symptoms since the fire began. Plaintiff Gomes has suffered mental anguish as he worries about the health of his family and the damage to his home."
ADEM has responded by stating the St. Clair County Commission has primary responsibility for dealing with the fire, but it is not authorized to spend money on private property, according to St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon.
St. Clair County has declared an emergency, and an online petition with nearly 500 signatures calls for ADEM to step in. Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) agrees that ADEM should act. He is having a bill drafted to make changes to operations within ADEM.
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