The Bulletin

State panel urges Bristol to close its local landfill after years of odor complaints

By: - April 25, 2022 6:34 pm

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.)

A panel of experts is urging Bristol, Virginia, to stop using its local landfill after finding nearly a dozen deficiencies linked to air pollution and foul odors at the site.

Their report, released Monday by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, caps off two years of complaints from city residents about steadily worsening air quality. The agency began investigating the landfill in 2020 after growing reports of odors coming from the landfill, which seemed to get worse despite the city’s efforts to fix the problem. 

In March, 10 solid waste experts recruited from across North America met in Bristol to assess the site. The panel concluded that odors are coming from chemical reactions below the surface of the landfill within the buried waste. According to the report, the site is already showing signs of becoming an “elevated temperature landfill,” a condition that can develop in deep landfill sites filled with very wet waste.

One of the key problems, according to experts, is that Bristol’s landfill has no onsite stormwater management system, allowing water to saturate the waste inside. As trash decomposes, it generates more heat than the landfill can naturally release. The report found that the site could be filled with up to 300 million gallons of water, samples of which showed elevated levels of a chemical called benzene. Researchers believe the chemical is coming from the waste itself, but the site lacks the equipment to determine how it’s being produced and released.

While those conditions are likely driving the odors, the panel also found failures within the landfill’s liner system, allowing gases to escape from the sides. Inadequate soil coverage over the surface is also likely allowing the smell to escape, according to the report. 

“This condition has the potential to worsen unless prompt (immediate) action is taken,” the panel wrote. The landfill currently accepts around 500 tons of waste a day, but experts urged the city to stop accepting new trash until it can permanently address deficiencies at the site. Ultimately, the panel recommended closing the landfill permanently, a process that could take years.

Built on a former rock quarry, Bristol’s landfill cost the city roughly $20 million to develop, according to reporting by the Herald Courier. The site opened in 1998 despite early predictions of engineering difficulties by state environmental regulators.

The city has already spent more than $3 million on efforts to reduce odors coming from the landfill. The city of Bristol straddles Virginia’s border with Tennessee and complaints have come from residents in both states. Last year, a Tennessee senator urged his own state agencies to investigate the site after concerns that Virginia officials weren’t adequately addressing the problem.

The full report can be viewed below:

Bristol_Landfill_Expert_Pa (1)

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Kate Masters
Kate Masters

Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md. She was named Virginia's outstanding young journalist for 2021 by the Virginia Press Association.