By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management held a public hearing on Thursday, January 11, 2018, in Livingston, Alabama on a five year permit renewal for Chemical Waste Management to operate a 2,700 acre hazardous waste landfill, near Emelle in northern Sumter County.
The permit renewal, which has 7,611 pages of technical information, was submitted to ADEM as part of its routine permit renewal process.
Chris Sasser from ADEM conducted the hearing, which was to give local residents from Sumter and surrounding counties an opportunity to comment and raise questions on the permit and regulatory process.
The Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste landfill at Emelle, which was originally permitted in the 1970’s, takes advantage of burying these highly toxic chemicals in 100-foot deep, plastic lined pits in the Selma Chalk (lime-rock) formations found in Sumter County.
The hazardous waste facility lies above the Eutaw Aquifer, which runs hundreds of feet below the facility. The Eutaw Aquifer is a drinking water source for communities from Sumter County across the state to Montgomery. One of the initial and continuing concerns about the facility was its safety in preventing contamination of surface and underground water flowing in, near or under the facility.
The new permit application submitted by Chem Waste proposes the abandoning of a set of wells that “gauge the geological soundness on the Selma Chalk formation in relation to the safety and security of the hazardous waste facility”. Chem Waste proposes to maintain over 50 water wells that monitor ground water and ground water runoff within and around the hazardous waste facility.
Another historical concern has been one of environmental justice with the citing of this major hazardous waste dump in Sumter County, a county in the Alabama Black Belt with a 70% Black population and statistical indicators of persistent poverty of this population.
About one hundred residents from Sumter and surrounding counties attended the hearing. Sasser opened the hearing with a statement that ADEM had come to listen and record the comments and questions of the residents affected by Chem Waste in making its determination on the permit renewal. Questions would not be answered at the hearing but in the ADEM’s final written determination on the permit renewal. At the end of the hearing, Sasser said the record would be held open until January 31,2018 for additional written comments.
Sasser called upon Mike Davis, a spokesperson for Chem Waste would gave a brief statement in support of the permit renewal application. He said he had been connected with Chem Waste for the past 38 years and was basically in charge of the Emelle facility since 2007. Davis said, “we are asking to close certain geologic monitoring wells but we plan to maintain over 50 ground water monitoring wells. We feel a deep responsibility to Sumter County residents for the safety of the facility and for its ability to provide employment and tax revenues to the county.”
Sasser then called on public officer holders to comment. Drussila Jackson, Sumter County Commissioner from District One, who is African-American and in whose district the facility is located. “I am very concerned about the extension of this permit and the abandonment of monitoring wells, since I live in Panola, a rural town in close proximity to the CWM facility, and drink water that is affected by the facility,” said Jackson. She said she had to push ADEM to hold this hearing and was not sure that ADEM was sufficiently concerned about the people in her district who live near the hem Waste facility.
Mayor Tom Tartt of Livingston spoke and praised the “wonderful partnership between Sumter County and CWM” that provided employment and tax revenues for the people of Livingston and Sumter County. Tartt said, “I trust Chem Waste, EPA, and ADEM to protect the citizens of Sumter County. The City of Livingston draws its municipal water from wells and I feel our water is safe.”
Several Sumter County landowners and citizens spoke. Charles and Linda Munoz noted that they had difficulty in downloading the permit and told anecdotes about the dangers of hazardous wastes to drinking water. “This facility is built on an earthquake fault line, so an earthquake could be a grave problem,” said Linda Munoz.
Terry Rosswell, a farmer who owns land close to the CWM facility said, “There are chemicals out there, dioxins, PCB’s and others that they promised not to bring. Bulldozers are running over and crushing barrels. There are real problems with the operation that ADEM needs to address before granting this permit.”
Steve Boyd, another adjoining land owner, showed two file drawer boxes that he filled with the copies of the 7,611 page permit application, which he said he had to go to ADEM’s offices in Montgomery to get. He asked that a copy of the permit application be sent to a place in Sumter County, where it would be convenient for local people, especially poor people and the elderly to review it. Boyd also warned, “That there had been a 2.4 degree earthquake in Sumter County, as recently as August 24, 2017, so earthquakes are possible and they may get stronger.”
Johnny Aycock, speaking on behalf of the University of West Alabama said that the Chem Waste Landfill was a boon to employment and economic development in west Alabama. “ On behalf of UWA, I feel CWM is honest and concerned about the safety of the people of this area, so we support approval of this permit,” he said.
Pierce Boyd, another adjoining landowner said that he had always felt “disrespected” by the owners and management of Chem Waste. ADEM has given CWM 265 waivers of environmental regulations since the facility was first permitted but has not explained its actions to the people of Sumter County. Boyd said, “ I was unable to download the 7,611 pages of the permit. My Internet service would not allow me to download such a large document. I have mined Selma Chalk for agricultural lime. I have found prehistoric fossils on the land where Chem Waste is located. The continued study of the geology of the place is very important and necessary for our safety.”
Kaye Kiker, a native of York, who now lives in north Alabama, who led early fights against CWM, said, “ Wendell Paris and I went out there when Chem Waste started and saw employees whose shoes were melting, as they handled the hazardous waste. They did not have protective suits or gas masks. We had to protest and agitate to get EPA, ADEM and others to pay attention.”
Kiker said, “ADEM is the least staffed agency in state government. We need more people to monitor environmental issues. There is a need for ADEM to have an on-site inspector to prevent illegal materials from coming to the site. A cancer registry is needed to monitor deaths in the area. Protection and warning of earthquakes is needed. I am not sure the permit really is protecting the people of Sumter County.”
Dr. Marcus Bernard, Director of the Federation’s Rural Training Center in Epes a neighbor to CWM said, “ I am concerned about the problems of toxic exposure by predominantly African-American population in Sumter and surrounding counties. ADEM we need assurance that you are doing everything you can to protect us.”
At the close of the hearing, Chris Sasser advised people to send their comments to ADEM or email them to: hearing.officer@ADEM.Alabama.gov.