‘We’re not a dump’ poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills
Imports of waste from across the country have turned parts of the state into a toilet bowl and residents are fighting back
West Jefferson, Alabama, a somnolent town of around 420 people north-west of Birmingham, was an unlikely venue to seize the national imagination. Now, it has the misfortune to be forever associated with the poop train.
David Brasfield, a retired coalminer who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig. By the time he realized that human feces was being transported from 1,000 miles away to a nearby landfill site, a scene of biblical pestilence was unfolding upon West Jefferson.
The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs, said Brasfield, who sports a greying handlebar moustache and describes himself as a conservative Republican. The flies were so bad that you couldnt walk outside without being inundated by them. Youd be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldnt breathe. You wouldnt even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.
The landfill, called Big Sky Environmental, sits on the fringes of West Jefferson and is permitted to accept waste from 48 US states. It used a nearby rail spur to import sewage from New York and New Jersey. This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns to the landfill.
Outrage at this arrangement reached a crescendo in April last year when Jefferson county, of which West Jefferson is part, barred the landfill operator from using the rail spur. Malodorous train carriages began backing up near several neighbouring towns.
Oh my goodness, its just a nightmare here, said Heather Hall, mayor of Parrish, where the unwanted cargo squatted for two months. It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.