It has been twenty years since the chemical company Monsanto came to an agreement with the residents of Anniston through a lawsuit. The residents of Anniston had accused Monsanto of exposing them to harmful chemicals known as PCBs, which reportedly led to birth defects and cancer. However, the situation in Alabama is not limited to Monsanto as there are other instances of alleged exposure to harmful chemicals. This is a story of two cities with different approaches to addressing the issue of chemical pollution: one taking proactive measures to prevent it and the other already dealing with its consequences for years. 

The privately owned Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County is permitted to receive and dispose of industrial waste from 33 states, including coal ash. Coal ash is the residual material that remains after coal is burned. 

The Environmental Protection Agency chose the Arrowhead Landfill fourteen years ago as the designated dumping site for four million tons of toxic coal ash from a spill in Tennessee. This resulted in daily arrivals of rail cars filled with ash. According to residents, this caused a strong odor and blanketed the surrounding area with a fine powder. 

The trees in the surrounding area resemble snow-tipped trees, covered in gray dust. Along with this environmental issue, there are also reports of kidney problems, nerve problems, and breathing problems in the area. Some individuals have even expressed that they are unable to tolerate taking showers due to the burning sensation and strong odor of the water. 

Kris Zierold, an environmental health researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, focuses her studies on coal ash in relation to children’s health. Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, is known to contain heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and lead. These toxic substances can adversely affect children’s health and development. Through her research, Zierold aims to understand the impact of coal ash on children and find ways to mitigate its potential harm to their well-being. 

After many years of protesting and fighting against the landfill, it was disheartening to learn that the Alabama Department of Environment Management renewed the landfill’s permit for another ten years in March. The news was made worse in August when the landfill was sold to Waste Connections and the company refused to respond to any attempts at communication from APR.