By Andy Sheehan

CLAIRTON (KDKA) – The DEP and Allegheny County Health Department are looking into a smoky haze that’s lingering over part of Clairton.

From the street you can see the smoke billowing from an empty lot. On closer inspection, you’ll find it rising from a massive compost heap of grass clippings and mulch.

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Neighbors noticed it on Thursday — along with its noxious smell. By Friday, it had gotten much worse and the fire department tried to put it out.

“We thought we had it under control,” fire chief Joe Lazur said. “Once we shut the water supply down, we realized that we didn’t.”

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Lazur says there’s a fire about 70 feet deep caused by combustible compost materials, but his efforts to suppress it have only made the hill unstable, and part of the heap now threatens to spill down a ravine into Peters Creek below.

“Once it ends up in the creek bed, what’s the chance it washes away and we have another problem downstream,” Lazur said.

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KDKA’s Andy Sheehan spoke with Bruce Fox, the owner of the compost heap and a business called Fox’s Worm Farm. He says the fire is from an underground coal seam.

But the county fire marshal disagrees and the county Health Department’s Solid Waste Program says it will be citing Fox for the fire and improper disposal of waste. Health Department inspectors are also monitoring the air for carbon monoxide, which neighbors say is making them sick.

“We get headaches here from the smell. Sickness,” one man said.

Meanwhile the mayor has signed a declaration of emergency to allow the city to select a clean-up specialist to resolve the problem.

“Remove it all. Haul it all away,” Lazur said. “Take it somewhere, spread it out, quench it and be done with it.”

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