By Kelsey Corley, Student Editor
The Bristol, Virginia Landfill has come under significant public scrutiny concerning potential environmental and health effects that the waste depository might be inflicting upon the city. In a city council meeting held last October, more than 150 concerned citizens attended to speak up about the issues caused the Virginia landfill. The most widely cited problem is the odor emitting from the landfill and spreading throughout the city, but many citizens also complained of multiple health issues they believe to be caused by these gases, such as nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, and upper respiratory distress.
Last summer, the EPA conducted an air quality report in Bristol, which concluded that while chemical compounds were present, they were at very low levels and there was, “no immediate risk to human health.” However, locals claim the situation has worsened since the tests were given.
In response to the increasing public complaints, the city council of Bristol, Tennessee Ordered a toxicology report to be done by a third-party research firm, Green Toxicology. Studies were conducted through November and early December of last year. The report concluded that there were significantly high levels of benzene present for a city of this size.
Benzene is a chemical commonly used in plastics, rubbers, dyes, and detergents, and many other forms of common household trash. According to the CDC, long term exposure to benzene can cause harmful effects on bone marrow, anemia, excessive bleeding, and increased risk of infections.
“Odors aside, it does not appear that potentially hazardous air pollutants are present at sufficient concentration in Bristol, TN neighborhood air to constitute health-hazards; although the measured concentration of benzene do range up to fifteen times higher than typical long-term averages for small cities in the U.S. In Bristol, VA nearer to the landfill, the measured concentrations (which are all short-term) may be up to seven times higher still,” wrote Green Toxicology in their report.
The firm explained that while benzene is present in the air at high levels, it is not the ultimate cause of the short-term health effects that citizens are dealing with. Instead, malodorous gases from the trash decomposing in the landfill are the most likely culprits. In response to the findings, the landfill was fined $3,000 for the violations by the city of Bristol, Virginia.
President Whittaker wrote publicly recently about how the King administration has responded to the ever-increasing odor complaints from the city and within King itself, “We have been in communication with numerous officials since the very start of this issue, including the city managers of Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, our state senator, and other senior state and federal officials. They are well aware of our frustration and have been responsive to our inquiries and requests.”
He went on to explain that the institution recognizes that the effect that the landfill has had on the city as unacceptable, but has refrained from public comment to instead focus efforts on working with public officials towards solutions. He wrote, “King is not isolated in experiencing the effects of the noxious landfill odor. . . We continue to encourage those in direct administration of the facility to find a rapid and effective solution.”
The Bristol Public Landfill began operation in 1998 in an old limestone quarry. According to research done by the Brockovich Report, a climate change newsletter, approximately 90% of all waste collected at the landfill does not even originate from the community it is affecting.
The majority of the waste is collected from New York, New Jersey, and California and is transported here to Bristol. This a disturbingly common practice, as the health risks of living near landfills is well known land thus, they are being established in lower income areas, with their primary function being to serve other, often much higher income, regions.
For more information on the Bristol, Virginia Landfill visit, https://www.wjhl.com/bristol-va-landfill/ or https://www.thebrockovichreport.com/p/a-horrible-stink-in-bristol.
To read more about the health effects of living near a landfill, visit https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2014-03/documents/health_effects_of_residence_near_hazardous_waste_landfill_sites_3v.pdf.