Officials: landfill fire won't affect upcoming UI events

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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The acrid smell of melting tires continues to swirl over the city as the Iowa City Landfill burns.

University of Iowa officials say they will monitor the situation along with city officials, and some programs have taken extra precautions.

Josh Berka, the director of Sports Camps at the university, said the Athletics Department has warned parents about the smoke plume. If parents have children with respiratory issues, he said, the department urges them to contact staff if they are concerned.

"All activities within the first week are indoor, so scheduling will not be affected," he said. "Though we will make changes for student safety and do whatever we are recommended to."

Mayor Matt Hayek signed a Local Disaster Declaration June 1, according to a city press release, after the fire has burned approximately 7.5 acres of land in the last week.

The declaration allows for better state funding assistance and insurance coverage following the fire, with damage estimated to be around $5 million, city officials said.

Hayek was not available for comment Sunday night.

The Fire Department is working on a more aggressive strategy for combating the fire. The department plans to actively stir the remaining layer of tires with heavy machinery to accelerate the process.

The strategy will result in a larger smoke plume, according to a release. Officials said they will warn the public before putting the plan in place.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the university and the State Hygienic Laboratory will carefully watch the fire for changes.

"At this state, no major threat is determined, so the university will just continue to monitor the situation," he said.

Pat Blake, the strategic communications director for the State Hygienic Laboratory, said while she could not divulge specifics about current tests, the laboratory is responding to requests from the Johnson County Public Health Department.

"We are responding to all and any test requests," she said.

Local officials from the Public Health Department and the Hygienic Lab took samples from Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville May 27. Officials said the tests showed normal levels of chemicals expected in smoke, according to a city release.

One sample had levels of two chemicals that were higher than the other two samples but were not alarming, the release said.

The Ambient Air Network station at Hoover Elementary, 220 E. Court St., continually monitors ambient air quality using 24-hour filter sampling with hourly readings.

Terry Cain, a laboratory supervisor with the Environmental Health Group, consistently monitors area levels of industrial chemicals and petroleum-based contaminants — such contaminants can leach from burned tires and into the groundwater supply below.

"Leachate from the shredded tire layer is possible but not a major concern in our situation," Cain said.

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