Ms. Ruby’s smile is infectious, but it is tinged with concern. At 80, she has lived in Perry County, Ala., all her life. But what has happened there these past few months has made her fear for her health.
“You might have seen my picture in the paper,” she smiles at the video camera. John L. Wathen, a.k.a. Hurricane Creekkeeper, is shooting the video to capture community reaction to local government’s decision to store toxic coal ash in the nearby Arrowhead Landfill. That coal ash is recovered from the Emory River where more than a billion gallons of the toxic material spilled in December 2008 from a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-firing plant in east Tennessee.
As part of a years-long, billion-dollar cleanup of the area, the TVA is hauling truckloads of the recovered coal ash from the river to the landfill in Perry County, an impoverished and historically black community in rural Alabama.
Local government calls the deal a “boon to the community.” It is expected to bring more than $3 million in “host fees” plus generate a few dozen jobs. Locals worry that they will have to shoulder the burden while city and county officials rake in the benefits.
“Sometimes at night when I’m in my bed I have my window cracked a little bit for some fresh air to keep from running the fan. I pick up this odor,” Ms. Ruby says. “I really don’ t want to say what it smell like. Some kind of gas. And it’s a bad scent … It wakes me up and it gets all through my house.
“I am concerned about my health. I’m breathing this stuff.”
Ms. Ruby and her neighbors worry their concerns are falling on deaf ears. But they aren’t the only ones who fear their health is in jeopardy. The recovered coal ash from Tennessee is being dumped into the Arrowhead Landfill and combined with household garbage. The liquid that drains from that landfill, also known as leachate, is trucked to nearby Marion, where it is then dumped into an open sewer lagoon and combined with sewage.
“The stench is horrible,” Wathen points out in his video. “Citizens nearby both locations fear for their health and safety.”
Watch Ms. Ruby’s and residents’ reactions.