A man who has been arrested three times for letting an unlicensed landfill burn for six months has been given yet another reprieve by a Fulton County judge and two more months to extinguish the flames.
Fulton County Superior Court judge Constance Russell on Wednesday gave Tandy Ross Bullock until May 20 to put out the uncontrolled fire, even though the state already withdrew $500,000 from Georgia’s tire clean-up fund to hire a contractor for just that purpose. Neighbors have been dealing with the smoke since September coming from the landfill that Bullock owns.
The state Environmental Protection Division first made a deal with Bullock in 2013 to reduce the amount of solid waste on the property, according to a court filing. Then EPD brought Bullock to Fulton Superior Court in December to get him to put out the fire.
The EPD said Thursday it “is sympathetic to residents’ issues with the smoke and we are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
South Fulton offers a rural respite from rushed life inside the Perimeter, but Michael and Jane Schaepe feel like they can’t enjoy their 44 acres and six horses without wearing a mask outside. They live less than a mile away from the six-acre mountain range of smoldering debris with peeks 60 feet high that has been spitting smoke into the neighborhood since Sept. 20.
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“To extend that period two months is unbelievable,” said Schaepe, 63. He and his wife worry about their three-year-old granddaughter who lives with them. “When we have bad episodes, it is truly difficult to breath.”
Schaepe said he has spent about $600 on heavy-duty air filters for his home to try to breath easier. But it isn’t just the irritated eyes and the swollen throat, there’s the mental effect. “Thinking, breathing something you know is toxic,” he said. “You sleep with that every night.”
Many neighbors, one of whom recently filed a lawsuit against Bullock, feel neglected by their elected officials. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also got no response from the city of South Fulton on Thursday.
“(Bullock) just needs to be given an opportunity without interference, and I think it’ll get done,” said Charles T. Brant, an Atlanta attorney representing Bullock, on Thursday.
Brant believes that the EPD and the city have mistreated Bullock. The attorney, who joined the case about a month ago, said there was a disconnect in the beginning “and sometimes it’s on both sides.”
He said the EPD wants to hire the contractor to extinguish the fire and then make Bullock pick up the bill, which Brant said Bullock can’t pay. The EPD has said all along it wants Bullock to put out the fire himself because it doesn’t want to have to use the funds.
Brant said his client has been unable to make money from the landfill since this started, which is why Bullock also wants the fire extinguished.
With an extra almost two months and clear instructions from the court, Brant characterized this as the first real time that Bullock feels like he can put out the fire.
Brant said it is only tree stumps burning and sap causing so much smoke. “This isn’t toxic, y’all.”
While an air study from Environmental Protection Agency found there were no long-term health effects from exposure to the smoke, it found worrisome levels of six chemicals, including benzene, formaldehyde and the industrial product phosgene — which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was “responsible for the large majority of deaths” by chemical weapons in World War I.
“Normal tree stumps do not cause phosgene in the air,” said Jane Schaepe, 66.
She is a long-time nurse who for the last decade has transported patients from overseas to the United States, so she said she’s used to wearing masks but would rather not at home. “I’m used to it treating an Ebola patients but not going outside to see my horses.”
Brant said his client has until May 20 to answer the judge, but he believes the fire should be out well before then. “We will see what his true intent is by the way he moves before his next court date.”
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