New York City

NYC ‘Poop Train' Flushed Out of Alabama Town

In Parrish, Alabama, population 982, the sludge-hauling train cars sat idle near the little league ball fields for more than two months

A stinking trainload of human waste from New York City that was stranded in a tiny Alabama town for more than two months, spreading a stench like a giant backed-up toilet, has been hauled away. 

The town of Parrish says the last container of human waste from the so-called New York City "poop train" has been flushed out of town, finally giving the tiny town, population 982, some much-needed relief.

Mayor Heather Hall shared the "wonderful news" in a Facebook post. 

"The final container was transported and emptied," Hall wrote in the post. "The containers that remain at the rail yard are empties awaiting transport back North and should be removed soon."

She added: "We are looking forward to moving on."

The sludge-hauling train cars sat idle near the little league ball fields for more than two months, Hall said. The smell was unbearable, especially around dusk after the atmosphere has become heated, she said.

"Oh my goodness, it's just a nightmare here," she said. "It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death."

All kinds of waste have been dumped in Georgia, Alabama and other Southern states in recent years, including toxic coal ash from power plants around the nation. In South Carolina, a plan to store radioactive nuclear waste in a rural area prompted complaints that the state was being turned into a nuclear dump.

In Parrish, townspeople considered rescheduling children's softball games, or playing at fields in other communities to escape the stink.

Sherleen Pike, who lives about a half-mile from the railroad track, said she would sometimes dab peppermint oil under her nose because the smell was so bad.

"Would New York City like for us to send all our poop up there forever?" she said. "They don't want to dump it in their rivers, but I think each state should take care of their own waste."

Alabama's inexpensive land and permissive zoning laws and a federal ban on dumping New Yorkers' excrement in the ocean got the poop train chugging, experts say.

Nelson Brooke of the environmental group Black Warrior Riverkeeper, describes Alabama as "kind of an open-door, rubber-stamp permitting place" for landfill operators.

"It's easy for them to zip into a rural or poor community and set up shop and start making a ton of cash," he said.

The poop train's cargo is bound for the Big Sky landfill, about 20 miles east of Parrish. The landfill has been accepting the New York sewage sludge since early 2017. Previously, it was transferred from trains to trucks in nearby West Jefferson, but officials there obtained an injunction to keep the sludge out of their town.

The sludge "smells of dead rotting animals as well as human waste," West Jefferson's attorney said in a lawsuit against Big Sky Environmental LLC. It also caused the community to become "infested with flies," the complaint states.

After West Jefferson went to court, the train stopped in late January in Parrish, which lacks the zoning regulations to block the train cars. It's sat there ever since.

"We're probably going to look at creating some simple zoning laws for the town of Parrish so we can be sure something like this does not happen again," the Parrish mayor said. 

New York City has discontinued shipping it to Alabama for the time being, said Eric Timbers, a city spokesman. Its waste, recovered from the sewage treatment process and often called "biosolids," has been sent out of state partly because the federal government in the late 1980s banned disposal in the Atlantic Ocean.

In an earlier trash saga, a barge laden with 3,186 tons of non-toxic paper and commercial garbage from Long Island and New York City wandered the ocean for months in 1987, seeking a place to dump it after plans by a private developer to turn it into methane gas in North Carolina fell through. It was turned away by North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas.

Brooke's Black Warrior Riverkeeper group last year opposed continued permits for the Big Sky landfill. Rural parts of Alabama are "prime targets" for landfills that accept out-of-state waste, it argued, meaning "that Alabama was becoming a dumping ground for the rest of the nation."

Big Sky officials did not return multiple email and phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Nationally, the waste and recycling industry generates more than $93 billion in gross revenue annually, said Brandon Wright, a spokesman for the National Waste & Recycling Association. Wright said there are many reasons waste is sometimes transported out of state. There might not be enough landfill space nearby "and the waste has to go somewhere, so it gets transported out of state," he said.

Alabama and other Southern states have a long history accepting waste from around the U.S.

A former state attorney general once described a giant west Alabama landfill as "America's Pay Toilet." It was among the nation's largest hazardous waste dumps when it opened in 1977. At its peak, the landfill took in nearly 800,000 tons of hazardous waste annually.

Plans to dump coal ash in Southern states have been particularly contentious. Each year, U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash and other waste; more than 4 million tons of it wound up in an Alabama landfill following a 2008 spill in Tennessee.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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