EPA Faults Navy Handling of 4-Week Landfill Fire

From Associated Press

After nearly four weeks of effort by two fire departments, an underground hazardous-waste landfill fire still smolders at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

But what has the Environmental Protection Agency up in arms is that the Navy took three of those weeks to tell anyone about it.

In a letter sent Monday to naval officials and local politicians, the EPA admonished the Navy for failing to alert the agency, local officials and neighbors of the Superfund site about the fire and the hazardous situations it may have created.


“Only after the EPA’s request did the Navy release a fact sheet to the public and install air monitoring stations to determine the impact of the fire on nearby residents,” wrote Daniel Meer, chief of the Superfund Division of the EPA’s Federal Facilities Cleanup Branch.

The letter went on to criticize the Navy’s decision to stop stationing federal firefighters at the site while the fire continues to burn. The EPA says the Navy has since reversed its plan.

Results of tests from soil, water and air samples submitted by the Navy to a laboratory are expected back this week. They will be studied to determine whether neighbors might have been harmed by smoke that took on yellow and green hues over the weeks.

The fire smolders on though it no longer produces much visible smoke, said Jeannie Light, a Navy spokeswoman based in San Diego. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The EPA doubts Hunters Point neighbors are in any danger but is not taking any chances.

“We don’t believe there’s any risk to people out there, but it’s nice to have the monitoring up just to make sure there aren’t any emissions coming from the landfill,” said Sheryl Lauth, Hunters Point project manager for the EPA.

The fire has burned since Aug. 16 at the shipyard, near a section where the city hopes to build new homes and businesses after the site is cleansed of toxic wastes. Heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons and other industrial wastes are embedded throughout the 46-acre landfill.

Lauth says it is hard to tell how long the fire could burn until a landfill expert the Navy plans to send to the site this week can figure out exactly what is burning.