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story.lead_photo.caption Keith Bryant/The Weekly Vista Bella Vistans sit and wait for a discussion regarding the fire alongside Trafalgar Road to begin at the Metfield clubhouse. Once the seats were filled, people stood in the room and outside the doors to hear the discussion.

Bella Vista is working with state agencies to handle the stump dump fire, which test results suggest could be generating Benzene.

Residents gathered to hear from city officials, property owners association leadership, representatives from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and from the Arkansas Department of Health during a resident-organized town hall at the Metfield Clubhouse.

Residents came with questions about an ongoing underground fire alongside Trafalgar Road on a site where the Bella Vista Property Owners Association previously operated a stump dump. The underground waste at the former dump site caught fire earlier this year.

Bella Vista Fire Chief Steve Sims said firefighters were initially dispatched to the area July 29, where they spotted smoke and what appeared to be the remains of a brush fire on the surface of the former dump, which is now owned by Brown's Tree Care.

There were no controlled burns at that site listed in the dispatch log, he said, and the property owner denies burning brush on that property.

Fighting the fire is difficult, dangerous and expensive, he explained, and the fire department has been focused on keeping it contained.

The department has also collaborated with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality since the fire started, he said.

A local family filed suit Tuesday against the property owner, alleging the fire has caused illnesses, nuisances and diminished property value and seeking monetary damage as well as an end to the fire.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency conducted air samples earlier this month at the request of the ADEQ and preliminary results were published Friday.

Stuart Spencer, associate director of the office of air quality at the ADEQ, told the audience that these results are not yet validated but he believes they will be.

"There were several different air toxics that were tested," he said.

The tests looked at numerous organic volatile and semi-volatile compounds. Spencer said that, of these, only benzene was indicated at higher than normal ranges. There were multiple air quality monitoring stations, but it was only detected on-site, he explained.

According to the American Cancer Society, "Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air."

The chemical is a natural part of crude oil and gasoline, as well as detergents, drugs and pesticides, according to an informational page published by the American Cancer Society.

Spencer said the presence of this compound suggests there is inorganic matter in the former dump site and not just yard waste.

Spencer said his department is engaged with the EPA and is attempting to establish dedicated monitoring of the area's air quality, and he hopes to have this underway in the next few weeks.

Tom Judson, the POA's chief operating officer, said the stump dump was operated by the POA on leased land starting December 2003, and it was closed at the end of 2016. The dump was capped off with soil after it was closed, he said.

When asked if it was regulated, with someone watching the site, Judson explained that there was nobody on hand to monitor the site for the last few years it was open.

Judson said that staff reported they would remove nonorganic waste whenever possible, but sometimes people dumped inorganic matter and tried to hide it.

Bella Vista resident Aaron DeCelle, who helped organize the discussion, presented the gathered officials with questions about the Trafalgar Road fire.

DeCelle said that he wants to see the fire stopped so he and his neighbors can breathe clean air, and it's important for the general public to be engaged with officials. DeCelle said he would forward any questions there was not sufficient time for to officials for a response.

"In the upcoming weeks, we will make sure every single one of your voices is heard," he told the audience, which filled a meeting room at the clubhouse with more people standing outside doors on either end of the room.

DeCelle asked which is the lead agency responsible for putting out the fire.

Mayor Peter Christie said the city is working closely with the ADEQ but lacks the expertise and resources necessary to handle this fire alone.

"We basically have only one tool in our kit bag, and that's water," he said. "The problem is... that particular piece of property is a watershed for Lake Ann."

Dousing the flames with water may put out the fire, he said, but it risks contaminating the lake with unknown substances from the former dump site.

There are possible solutions, like digging out all the material or building a berm around the former dump before flooding it, but funding these endeavors is well beyond the city's budget and the city would do well to take advice from federal and state agencies, he said.

"The solution is exactly what we're doing, and that is to work with the ADEQ and the EPA," Christie said.

General News on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Officials, residents discuss stump dump fire

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