Train cars loaded with biosolids or sewage sludge sit at a rail yard in Parrish, Ala. in March 2018 awaiting transport to the Big Sky Environmental LLC landfill in Adamsville.Dennis Pillion | firstname.lastname@example.org
The infamous “poop trains,” that carried sewage sludge from New York City to an Alabama landfill may be running again.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued a notice of violations to the Big Sky Landfill after inspectors discovered that the landfill had been bringing in train cars of waste by a new railyard built on the landfill property.
The shipping containers photographed by ADEM during a site visit were empty, but bore the logo of a company that specializes in shipping sewer sludge and other wastes, the same company used to carry hundreds of containers of sludge to Big Sky in 2017 and 2018.
The new railyard was not part of the landfill’s operating permit, and on Feb. 2 ADEM ordered Big Sky to “cease and desist the operation of the railyard for the rail transportation of waste material until such time as the permit is appropriately modified.”
Allowing the import of waste by rail is considered a “minor modification” per ADEM code.
Big Sky Environmental LLC, which operates the landfill, did not immediately respond to messages from AL.com seeking comment.
The landfill, located about 20 miles northwest of Birmingham, gained national attention in 2018, when it began accepting shipping containers full of sewage sludge from wastewater treatment facilities in New York City.
Sewage sludge, or biosolids, are the solid remains from wastewater treatment plants. As water is treated and discharged into a river or other body of water, some solid material is left behind. This material is generally either sent to a landfill or sometimes mixed with water for use as fertilizer.
The Big Sky landfill did not have a rail yard on its premises in 2018, so dozens if not hundreds of container loads full of biosolids sat on railroad tracks in the greater Birmingham area for weeks at a time while waiting for trucks to unload the sewage containers and haul them to the landfill.
This generated numerous complaints of overpowering odors in Jefferson and Walker Counties, including inside Birmingham city limits.
The sludge train stopped in 2018 after the New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced it would stop sending sludge to the landfill after the complaints.
Big Sky Environmental also pledged to stop accepting sewage sludge from New York during its 2018 permit renewal process.
But now, ADEM records show that the landfill has a new railyard on its property and at least some shipping containers have been unloaded there in 2022.
The ADEM inspector noted during a site visit on Feb. 1 that “a railyard has been constructed within the facility boundary for the rail transportation of waste material,” and that the use of such a facility was not included in the landfill permit or operating plan.
The inspector also noted the presence of empty shipping containers. According to the inspection report, Big Sky’s operations manager John Click told ADEM that “a load of eight railcars had been received via rail two weeks prior,” and the material had been put into the landfill for disposal.
Empty shipping containers at the Big Sky Landfill in Adamsville, Ala. documented in a site visit by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on Feb. 1, 2022.Alabama Department of Environmental Management
Photos from the ADEM site visit report show the empty containers bear the logo “EPIC,” for the Environmental Protection Improvement Company.
EPIC is part of a company called Synagro that specializes in shipping wastes such as sewage sludge, coal ash, contaminated soils, and other industrial wastes via a “nationwide rail network.” The poop train cars from 2018 also had the EPIC logo.
Additional ADEM records show that the landfill received approval to receive special waste from one wastewater treatment plant in Long Island, New York and one in Newark, New Jersey.
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