Alabama has gained a reputation as the dumping ground of the US, with toxic waste from across the country typically heaped near poor, rural communities, many with large African American populations, due to its lax environmental regulations, lower land value, economic disparities, and systemic racism.
Alabama has a total of 173 operational landfills, more than three times as many as New York, a state with a population four times greater but with just 54 dumps. California – three times larger than Alabama and containing eight people for every Alabamian – has just a handful more landfills than the southern state.
In 2018, West Jefferson in Alabama had to deal with the unimaginably foul stench coming from the ‘poop train’. Evidently, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management had approved a permit for waste management companies from New York and New Jersey to send millions of gallons of sewage by rail to a landfill called Big Sky Environmental that sits on the fringes of West Jefferson.
This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson – sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns – to the landfill. David Brasfield, a retired coal miner who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig.
“The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs,” said Brasfield, who sports a graying handlebar mustache and describes himself as a conservative Republican. “The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them. You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe. You wouldn’t even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.”