NBC & CPI Series Spotlight Crucial Need for EPA Action on Race Discrimination

Statements by Ala. community & Earthjustice attorney featured in series


Alyssa Ritterstein, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5243

NBC and Center for Public Integrity (CPI) today continued their hard-hitting series on communities living with polluting facilities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s lackluster record of investigating civil rights complaints connected with them.

Today’s CPI story covered a complaint charging that residents within the predominately African American Uniontown community had their civil rights violated when the state approved a permit for an enormous landfill in their community, which is allowed to receive waste from more than 30 states—from Maine to Florida and the Atlantic states to Texas. This permit also allows the landfill to receive coal ash, risking exposure to toxins linked to cancer, asthma and nerve damage.

High volumes of coal ash initially came to Uniontown following the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history, which sent a billion gallons of toxic waste across riverfront property in Kingston, Tennessee. Coal ash was sent from the predominantly white, middle class Kingston community to Uniontown, Alabama, which is 87% African American and has a per capita income of about $8,000.

EPA is still investigating the 2013 complaint alleging that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) reissued the landfill’s permit without taking actions to avoid disproportionate adverse impacts on the basis of race, and despite the objections of Uniontown residents.

The NBC piece showed the devastating environmental impact the landfill has on the community. It also included interviews with those affected by the contamination:

Statements from the Residents & Attorney Involved in the Complaint

“I applaud NBC and CPI for drawing attention to the very real issue of facilities disproportionately polluting low-income communities of color around the country,” Marianne Engelman Lado, lead attorney on the complaint from Earthjustice, said, “In Uniontown, many people can’t sit on their porch and wait for EPA’s decision on their complaint without the acrid smell of the landfill and fear for their health. I hope that public attention to the problem compels the EPA to act.”

“My nightmare continues,” Esther Calhoun, a long-time resident born and raised in Uniontown and president of Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, said. “I’ve heard maddening and sad stories of community members suffering from headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, nausea and vomiting. We didn’t have these kinds of health issues before the coal ash arrived. At least with this news coverage, NBC and CPI are calling attention to the need for action, while this landfill is robbing my community of the enjoyment of our rural way of life.”

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
Esther Calhoun (left) speaks with attorney Marianne Engelman Lado in 2014, at the train tracks that brought the coal ash to Uniontown. View more photos »

Annette Gibbs and her husband William stand in their front yard, near the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, AL.
Annette Gibbs and her husband William stand in their front yard, near the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, AL. Four million cubic yards of toxic coal ash were scooped up from Harriman, TN, the site of the nation's worst toxic spill, and dumped at the landfill. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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