- The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled last week that state environmental regulators went too far in allowing landfill operators to cover their sites with anything other than at least six inches of dirt or soil. AL.com reported the two sites at the heart of the decision are the Stone's Throw Landfill in Tallapoosa County and Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County.
- Advanced Disposal Services, which runs Stone's Throw, did not respond to Waste Dive's requests for comment as of publishing time. Mike Smith, an attorney representing Arrowhead Environmental Partners, told Waste Dive via email the ruling "will impact almost every landfill in the State" if it is not appealed.
- Both landfills have consistently generated controversy over environmental justice concerns. Judge Terry Moore wrote in his ruling that plaintiffs living near the sites were exposed to "offensive odors," along with "vermin" and "pests" entering their property, seemingly due to the use of tarps for daily cover. The judge's decision overturns a lower court's prior dismissal of the case.
It is unclear what recourse the state plans to take in responding to the ruling, which could affect publicly and privately operated landfills. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) did not respond to Waste Dive's request for comment by publishing time, but Arrowhead believes an appeal is possible.
"We trust this will be resolved over the next few months," said Smith. He emphasized that the Arrowhead Landfill "will continue to operate in full compliance with its permit and all applicable state and federal rules and regulations."
Community members have warred with ADEM for years over both of the landfills, which are near low-income, majority-black areas. Alabama has a disproportionate number of landfills relative to other, bigger states, like New York and California.
The Arrowhead Landfill is close to Uniontown, which is 90% black with 45% of the population living below the poverty line, according to the 2010 Census. The landfill began accepting coal ash in 2008 following the breakdown of a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, some 300 miles away. Coal ash contains toxins, such as mercury and arsenic, which are harmful to human health.
In 2013, community members filed a civil rights claim with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arguing the coal ash had sparked an uptick in asthma and other health issues. In March 2018, the EPA determined that there was "insufficient evidence" to support their claims.
Meanwhile, the Stone's Throw Landfill is located in Ashurst Bar/Smith, a rural area that is around 75% black. In 2018, the EPA closed a 2017 civil rights complaint by residents against ADEM without taking action. The community argued the state had racially discriminated against them by reissuing a permit to the landfill, which takes in waste from all 67 Alabama counties, as well as three in Georgia. That amounts to around 1,050 tons of waste each day, including construction and demolition, ash, sludge, asbestos, and wastewater biosolids. The landfill's lifespan is projected until 2053.
Stone's Throw was once closed by a prior owner before Advanced reopened the landfill in 2002. Advanced argues that the landfill has maintained "a good environmental record" since it was reopened.
Jonathan Smith, a staff attorney with the legal organization Earthjustice, told Waste Dive the recent court decision in favor of residents near the landfills is "heartening." While Earthjustice did not represent either area in this latest case, the group's attorneys have previously worked with both communities on their disputes with ADEM.
"It's unfortunate that members of the community have been complaining about [the landfills being insufficiently covered] and bringing it to authorities for over a decade," Smith said.