Thursday, August 28, 2014

Environmental Injustice In Perry County

PCA Landfill 07/13/09
 (click to enlarge then
top right hand corner to return to story)


  Environmental Injustice In Perry County

51 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King gave his infamous, "I have a dream" speech. Unfortunately that dream is more like a nightmare for the people of South Perry Co. Alabama.

To say that the PCA landfill in Perry County Alabama has improved since I first saw it would be an accurate statement on the surface. It doesn't mean the long range impacts have gone away. (click to enlarge. Upper right "X" to return to story)

The first aerial photo, courtesy of SouthWings was taken 07/13/09 and the second almost exactly 5 years later. All of the black mountain you see in the first shot is coal ash dumped here from the Kingston Tn. coal ash disaster in the Clinch and Emory Rivers. It was brought to Perry County in "burrito" bags to keep it from blowing dust into the white affluent community of Swan Pond and Kingston Tn. Basically it was treated like a hazardous material. 

Coal ash from Kingston Tenn. in dust proof "Burrito bags"
Of course that wasn't the way it was treated on arrival at the Uniontown terminal at PCA landfill.On Arrival it was unceremoniously ripped out of the bags, dumped on the ground directly over a culvert to Tayloe Creek, and then to cleanse the cars for the long trip back to Kingston they intentionally used several high pressure fire hoses to wash the coal ash into the tributary of Tayloe Creek.
Unloading facility
Unloading and washout

Wetland downgrade from the washout facility.
Catfish farms downstream from PCA landfill (Eat more catfish)
 This was at the peak of shipments from Tenn. The ash was so wet because it had to be dredged out of the river. 

Being full of river water when it arrived in Perry Co. created special problems of it's own. South Perry County is located on top of what is known as the Selma Chalk layer.

This formation is a type of soft rock type material not given to percolation. Water discharged to the surface tends to stand and puddle rather that soak into the earth. With the additional moisture from the ash and poor soil quality it caused an inordinate amount of toxic leachate to be present in the landfill. Wiki has this to say about leachate...

Environmental impact (WIKI)

"The risks from waste leachate are due to its high organic contaminant concentrations and high concentration of ammonia. Pathogenic microorganisms that might be present in it are often cited as the most important, but pathogenic organism counts reduce rapidly with time in the landfill, so this only applies to the most fresh leachate. Toxic substances may however be present in variable concentration and their presence is related to the nature of waste deposited."

In Perry County they were dumping toxic Arsenic laced coal ash and mixing it with household garbage. The leachate produced was not only high in Ammonia but added toxins from the coal ash, Arsenic, made this a cocktail of the most nasty smelling and nauseating substance I have ever encountered. I caught the landfill pumping toxic leachate out of the landfill at night.

Recently I had the opportunity to fly over the area with SouthWings once again. Along with observing the landfill I was asked by locals to document conditions at the Southeastern Cheese plant and an alleged failing sewage "spray field" operated by Uniontown Alabama.
Note the mold looking substance growing on the sign! Copyright JLW, all rights reserved
If you have never been around a cheese plant, you can't possibly imagine the stench and filth associated with one. The stream leading away from Southeastern to a small creek suprised even me!

 It was boiling with something I had never seen. Toxic is a word that doesn't pay justice to the smell and appearance of this particular tributary. I was told about how bad it was but until I saw and smelled it up front I couldn't grasp the impact. The water was boiling with septic bubbles that indicate a severe problem. Where is ADEM?

tributary immediately downstream from Southeastern Cheese.
Maybe they are different in other places but here it is what I saw that is overseen by ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Maniacs) In this photo (below) you are looking at the waste processing area where whey is pumped into open lagoons.
The white / brownish looking pond is full of what amounts to rotted buttermilk (whey).  I am told that it is circulated to keep it liquid and flowing so it can be "processed" by the remaining segments of the treatment area.
As you can see there isn't much in the way of treatment going on.
One pond looks and smells as bad as another.
Permitted ADEM point of discharge is in the lower right corner.
After "treatment" in the ponds the effluent water is sprayed in fields surrounding the ponds. Again, the stench of this is almost unbearable. I couldn't imagine what the poor folks living around it have to endure on a daily basis.
Note the cattle grazing in the upper section right next to spray fields. (EAT MORE BEEF)
I saw gray looking semicircles along the tree lines. That is where the effluent is killing the trees. The "Final effluent discharge" is sprayed. Look at the dead semicircle lines in the trees and then look how close to where the cows are grazing. 
Note cows grazing in upper left (Eat more beef)

If this were in a completely rural area it might be different. It isn't! Directly across from the "waste treatment" spray fields at Southeastern Cheese is a heavily populated subdivision. Can you imagine what it must be like living that close to ponds full of rotten milk?! 
After being thoroughly sickened with the cheese plant we flew to the sewer "spray fields". All of the waste effluent water  is sprayed out and absorbed into the ground for final treatment according to ADEM . The problem with that is that South Perry County lies above the "Selma Chalk". This presents problems for home foundations. Septic tank filter fields may need special attention because formation of the soils percolate water very slowly. However, the soils are very good for small pond This is a semi-hard rock formation that doesn't lend itself to percolation which is what a spray field needs to function adequately. (WIKI) What I saw was a miserable failure at best. ADEM (Peppie Lance R. LeFleur, DIRECTOR) has been aware of the chronic nature of this situation but has neglected to take action for many years. It wasn't until after threats of lawsuits did ADEM take action. Even then it was a joke called enforcement. Here is the "spray field" from a SouthWings plane. 
Spray fields are designed to perk into the soil. No water should ever be seen standing in a treatment area.
The nasty green looking mass in the upper left of the field is standing putrid water. The circles are where the effluent should have been absorbed into the ground. Obviously it didn't work. 
Spray heads are center of the dead zones. (right) The lagoon in the upper left should be dry.
How would you like to live there?! I saw 14 spray heads in service
ADEM did take action. They made Uniontown build a new processing plant AND or repair the existing system. Over 2 Million dollars was given to Uniontown to "fix" the problem. They drew up plans for a new treatment facility using the old method of failure as a remedy. Einstein said the definition of insanity is... "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." ADEM is a prime example of that insanity definition. My personnel opinion is this... ADEM should be there to review and decline  permits known to fail. The NEW AND IMPROVED solution was a duplicate  a failure of the past. Here is the "new" spray field. No spray heads have been installed but there is already water standing in the "spray field"(Rhutt Rhow)
 When asked about permitting such a fiasco, Scott Hughes (ADEM) had this to say to Adam Johnstom (ARA) ... We don't review permits for engineering. We issue permits if the local host government approves the design. If a local host approves the design we issue the permit. (paraphrase) What nonsense Scott?! If ADEM isn't supposed to enforce the Clean Water Act, designed to protect downstream citizens from negative impacts of pollution, then stop taking my tax money!

After leaving this last ADEM permit failure we flew over downtown Uniontown. I really think that is when it really sank in just how big a problem environmental injustice had become for this community. I played for Cold Steele, a rock band, in the 90"s I played Uniontown. It wasn't the biggest gig we did but it was at least a thriving town then, back in 1993. "The Club" where we played can be seen in the middle of town with the roof laying on the floor.
What has happened to Uniontown?
Simple... Cumulative impacts of environmental injustice at the hands of greedy corporations who came to Perry County to exploit the lack of state enforcement and the  low income, poverty stricken, people of color which didn't stand a chance against the corporate greed and lack of oversight by ADEM. It was, after all, ADEM who was charged with the so-called protection from such environmental injustice seen here today.

Shame on you ADEM!


1 comment:

  1. John, many thanks for your in-depth photo-journalism, revealing the problems that we citizens of Uniontown are contending with every day. As you note, our rural Black Belt community USED to be a charming town and vibrant commercial center, but the whole landscape has been forever altered and now is both economically depressed and depressing! We have been repeatedly victimized by the indifference of state agencies and the ineptitude and greed of local officials in cahoots with profit-motivated business concerns. As you point out, our environmental burdens include not only the stench of the cheese plant and the mountain of toxic coal ash in Arrowhead's mega-landfill, but also over 20 years of failures of the city's malfunctioning and creek-polluting wastewater treatment plant. We ask, as you do: WHAT IS ADEM DOING to alleviate these burdens? The simple answer is: aiding and abetting the perpetrators of these environmental injustices,