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caption: A large mound of trash is shown at a Snohomish County transfer station
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A large mound of trash is shown at a Snohomish County transfer station
Credit: Courtesty Snohomish County Public Works

Fearing ‘spontaneous combustion,’ Snohomish County closes two dumps to deal with growing trash pile

Snohomish County closed its two main transfer stations to deal with a growing pile of trash that officials fear could heat up to the point of starting on fire.

Snohomish County Solid Waste announced an emergency closure last weekend at its Everett and Mountlake Terrace transfer stations, where garbage trucks deposit trash before it’s taken to a landfill.

The problem isn’t the garbage itself, but the transportation needed to move it. The railroad company that normally hauls the garbage to a landfill in Eastern Washington is suffering from a staffing shortage.

caption: The path solid waste takes from home to the landfill
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The path solid waste takes from home to the landfill
Credit: Courtesty Snohomish County Public Works

Snohomish County Solid Waste Director David Schonhard said some garbage has been sitting at the transfer stations for more than a month. He said the huge garbage piles are getting hot as the trash starts to decompose.

“We're very concerned that their temperatures actually get to the point where they can start a spontaneous combustion and start a fire inside the transfer station,” Schonhard said.

Schonhard said the issue has not been limited to Snohomish County.

"We have been in direct contact with Skagit and Island counties, kind of the two counties to the north of us and west,” he said. “They've had very similar issues.”

The emergency closure allows the county to process the garbage and move it to their rail yard in Everett. The closures initially were expected to last for two weekends, but the closure over the Mother's Day holiday allowed crews to clear nearly 5,400 tons (more than 10 million pounds) of garbage.

In a press release Wednesday, Snohomish county officials stated that crews averted a health and safety emergency and were able to clear the backlog of garbage allowing for the cancellation of a second weekend of closures.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story mentioned there would be a second closure of the Everett and Mountlake Terrace Solid Waste transfer stations on May 14-15.