BELLA VISTA (KFSM) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (Jan. 2) signed an emergency declaration aimed at solving a smoldering fire at a former stump dump in Bella Vista that state health officials say is polluting the air.
Hutchinson said the declaration will cut through red tape and "render maximum assistance" to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) in their efforts to re-mediate the site.
ADEQ has already been contracting with an engineering firm to prepare a plan for removing or eliminating the fire, which has been burning about 60 feet underground since July 2018.
Brown's Tree Care owns the property, which is catercorner to Trafalgar and Kingsland roads.
The city of Bella Vista has set up a website to track the progress of the fire. Residents can direct questions regarding assistance needs or other questions to Donnally Davis at ADEQ by calling 501-682-0889 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this month, health officials declared the air around the property 'unhealthy' and urged residents to avoid prolonged exposure to the area.
A widely used industrial chemical, benzene was detected at .022 parts-per-million within the boundaries of the former stump dump.
Benzene can cause serious health effects if “a person is exposed to it either in high doses (a lot of it) or over a long amount of time,” according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).
However, the EPA doesn't consider this an immediate health concern because it doesn't exceed the two-week to seven-year exposure screening level of .03 ppm.
Neither Brown's Tree Care or Blue Mountain Storage, the previous owner, appeared to have a permit from ADEQ to operate a disposal site.
The stump dump was leased by the Bella Vista Property Owners Association from 2008 to 2016.
It was used as a collection area for residents’ stumps, brush, and leaves. The POA closed the stump dump down in 2016 after it reached capacity.
ADEQ also ordered the POA to close another stump dump on the west side of town earlier this year.
Residents have said there's evidence the dump contains remnants of discarded construction materials, including concrete and fiberglass.
Hutchinson said last month the potential for any liability issues related to dumping and burning at the site will be addressed at a later date.