Witnesses say N. Toledo landfill may still be on fire

A file photo of Toledo firefighters working on a fire at a Stickney Recycling debris pile in Toledo.
A file photo of Toledo firefighters working on a fire at a Stickney Recycling debris pile in Toledo.

Unbeknownst to the Toledo Fire Department, the asbestos-containing North Toledo construction and demolition debris landfill known as Stickney Recycling may still be on fire.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office has been presenting evidence in Lucas County Common Pleas Court since 9 a.m. today that the pesky landfill fire - believed to be smoldering for about two weeks before it became engulfed in large flames on May 2 - was never completely out when firefighters cleared the scene on May 5. 

Several small billows of smoke have been seen emanating from the site in the past week as recently as Monday, according to witnesses called by Robert Eubanks, an Ohio assistant attorney general, some of whom provided videos and photographs to go along with their visual observations.

The witnesses include two from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, one from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, and one from Toledo Environmental Services. Judge Linda Jennings is hearing more testimony this afternoon.

In each case, witnesses said their observations were limited to smoke and smell - not flames. But those who testified also are in the business of regulating landfills, including Stickney Recycling, and said they are notoriously difficult to extinguish because of all of the available fuel that allows them to keep burning below the surface.

State attorneys are attempting to show that's the case with the Stickney Recycling site, which some witnesses have said has not been compacted adequately to prevent oxygen from getting inside the landfill. They also said there is evidence the site is already beyond capacity for waste.

Judge Jennings said today's hearing - called when a proposed settlement last week fell apart - has a three-pronged purpose of first establishing if the site is still on fire, and then if it can accept more waste, and if waste can be temporary stored on site while a new landfill cell is developed. The latter was the last remaining issue of an all-day negotiating session that led to last week's proposed settlement.

"It smells like a campfire with a putrid smell to it. It smells like it's just not wood burning, like there's some chemical smell to it," Sue Handy, an Ohio EPA inspector, testified. She said she observed smoke on May 7 and again on Monday.

Lauren Rush, a Toledo Environmental Services specialist, gave similar testimony.

"It smelled like a campfire with trash in it, kind of a musty smell," she said.

The site, at 4425 Creekside Ave., has had waste - including highly regulated asbestos, a known trigger of lung cancer - stacked beyond permitted levels before the recent fire, John Pasquarette, Ohio EPA environmental manager, said.

"It couldn't have been a result of firefighter activity on the site," Mr. Pasquarette said of the high slope of waste in the landfill.

The only defense witness put on the stand this morning was Toledo Deputy Fire Chief Richard Syroka, who testified he believed the fire was snuffed out when crews cleared the scene on May 5 after hosing off what they believed were the last remaining hotspots.

The fire "looked like it was pretty well deep-seated into the landfill," Chief Syroka said, but appeared to be out.

Chief Syroka, who did not stick around for testimony about lingering smoke that was presented by several agency inspectors, told Mr. Eubanks he would be surprised if the subsequent evidence showed the fire was still active.

Toledo fire Lt. Matt Hertzfeld said fire crews had not returned to the scene since May 5, at which time they turned it over to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

The company is continuing to bring in a contractor to spread soil to try to smother the fire.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.