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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO A crew works Friday excavating the stump dump fire site in Bella Vista.

BELLA VISTA -- Air-quality readings near an underground fire two weeks ago were better than forecast, according to results posted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality website.

However, the air-quality index is still predicted to be in the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Bella Vista Property Owners Association's website.

Forecasts since May 18 were in the more severe "unhealthy" range, but monitors at Fire Station No. 2 on Trafalgar Road and near Cooper Elementary School on Blowing Spring Road show an air-quality index of mostly "good," the EPA's best rating, from May 16-22. The results were posted to the state agency's website on Friday.

There was one "moderate" reading at both sites on May 22. That is the EPA's second-best air-quality reading.

City firefighters discovered the fire on Trafalgar Road on July 29.

Tom Judson, the Bella Vista association's chief operating officer, said in a video posted to the association's website Friday that the goal was to take a cautious approach when predicting air quality.

Judson noted as far back as May 6 that smoke near the site could get worse before the air improved.

The "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range on the air-quality index is between 101 and 150. An "unhealthy" reading is 151 to 200, according to the EPA.

The federal agency says the air-quality index is a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the air-quality index value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. "Good" is from 0 to 50, while "moderate" is from 51 to 100.

People with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk of exposure to ozone. On days with an "unhealthy for sensitive groups" reading, persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air, according to the EPA.

Particulate-matter monitoring measures the amount of solid and liquid droplets found in the air, such as ash, dust and smoke. The amount provides a snapshot of local air quality and how it might affect health, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

State officials in December urged residents near the fire to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors after an "unhealthy" air-quality reading in the area.

The association took over the job of extinguishing the fire and cleaning the site from the Environmental Quality Department on May 3.

The plan is to have the fire extinguished within 30 days at a cost of around $4 million, Judson said. The fire must be out by June 14, according to the contract with the Environmental Quality Department, the Friday video noted.

Crews with E3 Environmental from Clinton, Miss., continue to excavate "hot spots" on the northwest corner of the site, according to the website.

Judson said in the Friday video that contractors are ahead of schedule in phase one, which includes putting out the fire and making sure it doesn't reignite.

Phase two will be remediation of the site.

Donnally Davis with the Environmental Quality Department confirmed Friday that contractors are on schedule to extinguish the fire within the 30-day timeline even though they have been hampered at times by heavy rain.

The association operated the former stump dump on leased land from December 2003 to Dec. 31, 2016, when it was covered with soil, Judson previously said. No one monitored the site the last few years it was open, but staff members would remove trash when possible, he said. The property is now owned by Brown's Tree Care.

Metro on 06/04/2019

Print Headline: Air quality near dump fire better than forecast

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