[Thirty years ago, the treated remnants of a city’s sewage—known as “biosolids” to those in the industry—usually went into the ocean. But in 1988, the government realized this wasn’t the best idea and gave municipalities three years to figure out where else their sludge could go. In addition to finding a new place to put it, the EPA ruled a portion of the biosolids had to be used in a way that would benefit the environment.
New York City, which already had a population over 7 million, had been dumping its sewage 106 miles out in the ocean. (This was an improvement on the 12 miles out it was dumping sewage in 1987, but still not ideal.) A solution needed to be found, and fast.
So the city decided to turn the sludge into fertilizer. The EPA ruled that, after treatment, biosolids are perfectly safe to use on plants, and often, are better for the plants than chemical fertilizers. They are rich in nutrients that help plants grow, and the application of biosolids to the soil has been known to stimulate root growth and help the soil better retain water.
Although they accepted sludge from other locations, states feared the material from New York City would be disease-ridden and toxic. Alabama outright rejected the biosolids, and in Oklahoma, even after farmers begged for the material, a plan to ship 1150 tons of biosolids to the state was defeated due to public outcry. “No part of Oklahoma will be sacred,” wrote Tim Cagg, the chairman of Concerned Citizens for a Clean Environment. “These profit seekers will not be around when we must clean up the damage in years to come.”
Eventually, some farmers in Colorado said they would try it. Just before before Earth Day 1992, 17 train cars filled with several thousand tons of big city biosolids left the station and headed to a new life on Lamar, Co. farms. “At first people wanted to flee the land when they found out New York’s sewage was on the way,” farmer Douglas Tallman said at the time. Tallman’s enthusiasm for the product got him nicknamed “Sludge Judge” in local politics.
Initially, only three or four farms volunteered to take the waste. But then the farmers started to notice some changes. One farmer’s wheat crop yield increased by a third after using biosolids. The sludge also appeared to keep away aphids, prairie dogs, and other pests. Soon, there was a waiting list for farmers who wanted to get their hands on New York biosolids.
New York kept producing, and the farmers kept buying. Trains were now running twice a month to Colorado. The longest train the state received was 153 cars of the stuff. At its peak, 10,000 acres a year were being covered with sludge from the big city, but the demand was so great, 50,000 to 75,000 acres could have been covered if there had been enough product.
The one problem, though, was the cost. Shipping waste on a rail line wasn’t cheap, and the city started looking for other options. Despite demand, in 2012, the train stopped running….] New York City’s Poop Train | Mental Floss
So, how is this connected to Alabama? Because the New York Poop train started transporting biosolids once again. Last year.
[The treated sewage – euphemistically known in the industry as “biosolids” – has plagued residents with a terrible stench, flies and concerns that spilled sludge has leaked into waterways.
“On a hot day, the odor and flies are horrific,” said Charles Nix, mayor of West Jefferson, a town near the landfill that accepts the waste. “It’s better in winter time but if the wind blows in the wrong direction you get the smell. It’s like dead, rotting animals.
Last year, Big Sky Environmental, a landfill west of Birmingham, got permissionfrom Alabama authorities to accept sewage waste, despite objections from residents. Initially, the waste was taken down from New York and New Jersey to a rail spur near West Jefferson, where it was loaded on to trucks that rumbled through the town toward the landfill…. Jefferson county, where West Jefferson sits, decided the use of the rail spur was a violation of zoning laws, so the transport operation shifted the the nearby town of Parrish, which in turn sought to eject the malodorous cargo. Amid the squabble, the sewage sludge backed up in railcars in Birmingham, causing the mayor’s office to complain about the “death smell”.
The outsourcing of New York and New Jersey’s waste to Alabama revived memories of the “poop train” that ferried New York’s waste to farmers in Colorado until 2012. Since the Environmental Protection Agency decided in 1988 that it was not a great idea to simply pump it into the ocean, where to put New York’s fecal matter has become a constant challenge – the city creates around 1,200 tons of sewage every day.
Billions of gallons of raw sewage still spills into New York harbor each year but the waters around the largest US cities are significantly cleaner than in the 1980s and the metropolis has touted its water treatment processes. Last year, it quietly decided Alabama should be the resting point for some of its waste.
Stung by the outcry, New York has severed its links to Big Sky Environmental, although city officials failed to answer questions on how much sewage was still being transported to other states…. Around 7% of New York City’s treated sewage went to the Alabama landfill, according to a city spokesman, adding that a recent inspection by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management found “no odor or leaks”.] Alabama Kicks up a Stink Over Shipments of New York Poo | The Guardian
Now, let’s bring Onis Trey Glenn into the picture.
[The guy who oversees the whole Southeastern arm of the Environmental Protection Agency – the man charged with making sure your water is clean enough to drink and your air doesn’t smell like the caboose of a North Birmingham poop train – is on the job.
Oh, man. I’m kidding. You need to worry. You sooo need to worry.] EPA Director Paid by “Poop Train” Conductor | Alabama.com
[Back in August 2017, Onis “Trey” Glenn was appointed as EPA Region 4 administrator, which oversees the agency’s mission in eight states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. You may recall that Glenn was the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management from 2005–2009.
While he was pushing for the job as director of ADEM, Glenn approved invoices for engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie (which has since changed its named to Arcadis). It just so happened that at the time, Malcolm Pirnie executive Scott Phillips was chair of the Environmental Management Commission and therefore responsible for selecting the next ADEM director. In 2007, the Alabama Ethics Commission unanimously concluded that Glenn violated state ethics laws in order to get the job at ADEM, though he ultimately escaped criminal charges.
Glenn also billed his family’s private plane trip to Disney World to a PR firm — which he said he eventually paid back. It was so bad that former ADEM attorney David Ludder (who now represents Gasp on several legal matters) urged the EMC to pass a rule banning Glenn from receiving gifts from companies regulated by the agency.] Who Does Trey Glenn Work For | GASPGROUP.com
More coverage: Alabamians Are Sick of New York’s Crap | New York Magazine