Commentary

There’s something rotten in Bristol

December 22, 2021 12:02 am

A state panel urged Bristol, Virginia to close its local landfill. Odors and complaints of sickness from emissions from Bristol, Virginia’s city landfill have come from both sides of the border. (City of Bristol, Va.)

By Jo Albers

My husband and I spent several years researching what part of the country we wanted to spend our retirement; our golden years. We wanted to be close to the mountains, but also to have access to restaurants, live music and shopping. We narrowed our search to the Southwest Virginia/ Northeast Tennessee region, and then we found a beautiful old house in an historic section of Bristol. We moved here about 18 months ago, ready for a smooth glide path to retirement.

Moving to Bristol felt like coming home. My parents grew up in the Roanoke area, and I have many fond childhood memories of visiting grandparents and extended family in Southwest Virginia.

Our family history dates back many generations in this area, and my love of the Blue Ridge Mountains runs deep. Unfortunately, our dream is quickly turning into a nightmare as life in Bristol becomes increasingly unbearable, due to ongoing issues with a poorly designed local landfill.

We first experienced the noxious landfill gases about two months after moving in. When the wind blows from the direction of the landfill on the north side of town, we are inundated with the putrid stench of burning garbage. The gases permeate our old home and become trapped in the house – often in the evening or very early morning – and they linger throughout the house all night and much of the next day. Despite running multiple air purifiers in the house, the gas frequently wakes us up in the middle of the night. And we haven’t been able to spend evenings outside, even during the warm summer months.

At first, I wanted to believe that the putrid stench was just an odor; that it wasn’t harmful. Surely, the City of Bristol, Va., would not allow this situation to continue if the gases represent a clear and present danger to their citizens and surrounding communities, right? 

Even after air sample reports from the landfill and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) showed high levels of benzene, hydrogen sulfide and other toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being emitted, city officials and landfill personnel said we wouldn’t suffer any lasting harmful effects. I so wanted to believe them. But when the gases become trapped inside our home, the physical reaction is immediate and undeniable — burning eyes, runny nose, sore throat and headaches. Many of our neighbors have reported suffering even worse symptoms, including nosebleeds and migraines.

I worry about the long-term impacts on my health, and on my husband’s health. More importantly, I worry about the long-term effects on my neighbors’ children who are in their early stages of development, with a long life ahead of them. And I worry about the ecological and economic impacts on the surrounding area. Because the gases don’t just permeate our homes. They are in the elementary school a few blocks from my house. They are in our local churches, grocery stores and other small businesses.

Recently, the City of Bristol, Va., was very quick to woo the Hard Rock Casino to come here in an effort to boost tax revenue and spur economic development. But in the long run, allowing this inexcusable situation with the city landfill to continue is a much bigger gamble, impacting the health and quality of life of thousands of local residents.

Jo Albers is a resident of Bristol. 

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