BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — CBS 42 has obtained new documents that show an Adamsville landfill could once again resume hauling in train cars full of treated human waste from other states.

In 2018, Alabama made national headlines after neighbors complained that the waste caused an odor and an influx of flies as train cars sat idle on tracks in Walker and Jefferson Counties.

Government agencies and environmental groups got involved and the practice appeared to stop. The loads of waste were traveling to Big Sky Environmental in Adamsville.

“Ultimately train cars ended up just sitting and kind of rotting and stenching on people for extended periods of time,” said Nelson Brooke, with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

CBS 42 uncovered documents from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that show over the past few months, several out-of-state wastewater treatment plants have been approved to send waste to Big Sky Environmental.

“Apparently they don’t have a place chosen up there in New York to get rid of it, so they are sending it on down to happy Alabama where we seem to have open arms for poop sludge,” said Brooke.

After receiving a tip that Big Sky was using a recently constructed railyard to receive the waste, CBS 42 contacted representatives with ADEM.

On February 1st, ADEM officials visited Big Sky for a site visit and issued a notice of violation.

In the notice, ADEM states that “The acceptance of waste material via rail and the associated facility operations are not currently included in the facility permit or operations plan.”

Big Sky was instructed to cease and desist operation of the railyard for transportation of waste material until the permit is modified.

In an accompanying document, ADEM wrote that during the site visit, inspectors noticed empty railcars at the new railyard.

According to ADEM, Big Sky representatives reported that a load of eight railcars from a municipal wastewater treatment facility in New Jersey had been received via rail two weeks ago. Big Sky told ADEM that the material had been disposed of in the facility’s permitted landfill.

According to ADEM, a local government can issue guidelines that determine where waste can be imported from if the landfill lies within its limits.

In a memorandum from ADEM, the agency writes that inspectors told Big Sky representatives that the new railyard would need to be reflected in an updated operations plan with a minor modification to the current solid waste disposal permit.

According to ADEM, Big Sky would need to submit a detailed update of the operations plan that includes how they will use the railyard and how it would be operated. A public notice would also be required for the minor modification.

Public notice periods allow the public to share feedback with ADEM for a period of 35 days.

ADEM will review and respond to comments as a part of the process. Officials would then need to make a decision to approve, deny, or require more information for the modified permit. There would also be additional costs associated with a modification, an ADEM spokesperson said.

So far, Big Sky has not submitted a request to modify the permit, according to ADEM.

Since the state government agency cannot regulate interstate commerce, there is nothing prohibiting companies from accepting out-of-state waste as long as the process is properly documented and approved by ADEM.

Brooke has concerns about what is in the waste and whether the landfill would be able to keep it from leaching out and impacting the environment.

“Do we really want to be the dumping grounds for the rest of the country? I mean I certainly don’t think we should be,” said Brooke.

In November 2021, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection was approved by ADEM to dispose of “municipal grit and screening.”

Later that month, an approval for the disposal of municipal wastewater treatment residuals was granted for the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

In December 2021, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, New Jersey was cleared to dispose of ‘Zimpro process waste,’ according to ADEM documents.

Finally, in January 2022, the Suez-Nassau County-Bay Park Wastewater Treatment Plant in East Rockaway, New York was approved to send ‘municipal wastewater residuals.’

In general, companies can request permission from ADEM to send special waste to an approved facility.

According to ADEM, an approval does not mean the entities will send the waste.

Landfills are only required to provide ADEM a quarterly breakdown that shows the volume of solid waste that came from within the state and what material came from outside of the state.

No such reports have been filed so far to indicate volume received in 2022.

A report detailing the final three months of 2021 showed that there was a quarterly volume of
38,977.83 from in-state sources and 14,816.33 from out-of-state sources. ADEM’s reporting form states that volume can be expressed in cubic yards or tons, by circling the appropriate option, but neither is circled. The quarterly figures also showed daily averages of 512.86 from in-state sources and 194.95 for out-of-state sources.

CBS 42 reached out to Big Sky Environmental for a response or a statement. Company representatives did not respond to multiple requests.