© 2024 New Hampshire Public Radio

Persons with disabilities who need assistance accessing NHPR's FCC public files, please contact us at publicfile@nhpr.org.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Purchase your tickets for a chance to win $35k toward a new car or $25k in cash during NHPR's Summer Raffle!

What To Do About The Poo Choo-Choo? Alabama Town Deals With A Smelly Situation

There are a lot of words — and a lot of euphemisms — to describe the cargo sitting in a Parrish, Ala., rail yard.

"They call it sludge," AL.com reporter Dennis Pillion told NPR's Here & Now. "They call it biosolids."

Or, in other words, poop.

It has been there since February. At one point, as many as 250 containers of it — some 10 million pounds — were sitting, parked off the tracks, in Parrish, pop. 982.

"It's so frustrating," Mayor Heather Hall told CNN. "You can't sit out on your porch. Kids can't go outside and play, and God help us if it gets hot and this material is still out here."

Even more frustrating for the town: The waste isn't theirs. It's all from New York and New Jersey, which, according to Pillion, regularly ship human waste as far as Alabama and Colorado.

Several wastewater treatment plants struck a deal to send their waste to a landfill in Adamsville, some 25 miles away from Parrish, according to AL.com. Big Sky Environmental received a permit in December 2016 to begin storing the waste in the landfill. But officials in Jefferson County, where Adamsville is located, ruled that Big Sky had to stop unloading there because the local rail yard didn't have the proper zoning.

So the company moved its unloading operation to Parrish, which is in Walker County. And, since February, that is where the cars have been.

Residents say "it smells like dead bodies," local TV station WVTM reported.

"You can't open your door because that stuff gets in your house," Robert Hall told WVTM. "It's really rough."

The rail yard's location makes it hard for some people to avoid the train cars. Hall points out that they're close to a baseball and softball field and that some homes are only 50 yards away.

"What happens if flies into someone's house?" she said to CNN. "Is that not a public health issue?"

Actually, experts say it might not be. There haven't been reports of anyone getting sick, Pillion says. It isn't raw sewage; instead it has been processed into a form known as biosolids.

"And a lot of that stuff might be closer to you than you would like to think about," Pillion told Here & Now.

Though many of the containers are still there and still smelly, the town seems optimistic the problem will get better. Hall told AL.com this weekthat more than half of the containers have been removed. And New York City announced last month that it would stop sending waste to Big Sky's landfill.

And so, odor or no, life goes on. Hall told AL.com that the Parrish Coal Fest would continue Friday and Saturday as planned, with an assist from mild weather.

"Because the temperatures are so low, [the smell] is not a problem," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.