Neighbors speak out against possible ‘poop train’ return

Local News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Dozens of neighbors voiced concerns over proposed changes to the state of Alabama’s biosolid waste program during a public hearing in Montgomery Tuesday.

Many residents had concerns that trains could resume carrying treated human waste to Alabama from other states. Foul smells and flies plagued neighbors in Jefferson and Walker Counties in 2018.

Representatives from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management will now consider public comments as ADEM considers adopting proposed regulations.

“This regulation, in and of itself, will not allow or disallow the poop train. This regulation gives us better control over what is done in Alabama,” said Stephen Cobb, who is the chief of ADEM’s land division.

During Tuesday’s meeting, several neighbors from across the state spoke against the use of treated wastewater on land.

“I don’t want any other community to have human waste that’s been partially treated in a state other than Alabama be dumped in Alabama,” said Charles Wayne Hughes, who is on the town council in the town of West Jefferson.

Hughes recalled a sludge spill from a vehicle attempting to transport waste to an Adamsville landfill in 2018. He wants to make sure companies do not profit from hauling in out-of-state waste. Waste has previously come in from other states, like New York.

“Keep it in your own borders. Don’t send it to Jefferson County, don’t send it to the state of Alabama,” Hughes continued. “I don’t care what happens in New York City. They have Central Park. I don’t care if they stack it 20 feet deep in Central Park; it’s their problem.”

Some neighbors, including Hughes, do see a use for locally treated wastewater as long as it stays within borders.

“I would call on ADEM leaders to write the strongest regulation that a state can write to restrict specifically human waste coming in from a wastewater treatment plant. We have enough agricultural waste in this state for what is considered beneficial,” said Hughes.

During Tuesday’s meeting, one man spoke in favor of using treated wastewater on farmland. Joe Saxon said he recently used the method on his property near Gadsden.

“The primary benefit of course is it saves money. Commercial fertilizers are very expensive for farmers now and farming is not a really high margin business,” said Saxon.

Saxon also runs an environmental service company and said he makes sure other industries remain in compliance with wastewater discharge. After hearing feedback, Saxon would like to see ADEM take some time to find common ground.

“Whatever regulatory basis we need, whatever testing protocol, whatever that needs to be to get it right, that’s what we need to do. Let’s get it right. Protect the environment, help industry, help Alabama’s economy and make sure our children are healthy at the end of the day,” said Saxon.

If the state regulates biosolids, leaders believe ADEM will have more control in order to resolve any issues that may arise. ADEM will now review feedback after the hearing.

“As we did in the previous public notice about these regulations, if we see things that we think need further evaluation, we can always hold back and come back at a later time. That is part of what this process is about,” said Cobb.

ADEM held a similar public hearing in the fall of 2019 before making changes to the proposal in November. You can view the newest proposed changes here.

During Tuesday’s meeting, at least one speaker voiced concerns that ADEM seemed to make adjustments to the newest proposed changes based on 2019 feedback from industry stakeholders.

In a series of emails obtained by CBS 42, several companies suggested changes to the previous 2019 proposal.

Cobb was asked about the most recent proposed changes discussed Tuesday.

“We took parts of all of that feedback we got in the fall to refine the proposal we made in the fall to what we think is a better proposal now,” said Cobb.

In the previously proposed changes in 2019, ADEM proposed that a by-product must not be “putrescible.” In the previously proposed changes in 2019, ADEM wrote that ‘putrescible means materials, which contain organic matter capable of being decomposed by microorganisms and such a character and proportion as to be capable of attracting or providing food for vectors including birds and mammals and cause nuisances from odors or gases.’

In the most recent proposal, ADEM removed the portion about putrescible by-products. Cobb explained “The very definition of putrescible made it a difficult thing to enforce, because these are by-product materials, these are organic materials, and we realize that that word was going to create a lot of confusion about what could or could not be used,” said Cobb.

In 2018, Jefferson County passed zoning changes to keep the trains from carrying waste through certain parts of the county. Cobb said current proposals would still allow cities or counties to enact rules.

“Nothing in these rules would preclude the city or county from enacting rules that they have to be able to do it. Actually, these rules will best work in conjunction with for instance, nuisance laws and other business licenses. Things of that nature that may be enacted by cities and counties within their jurisdictions, but it gives us a common platform to operate on on a statewide basis,” said Cobb.

According to Cobb, ADEM will eventually make a recommendation to the environmental management commission. The commission will make a final decision on whether to implement the regulations. The earliest that could happen is February, Cobb said.

Stay with CBS 42 for updates.


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