Alabama Black Belt Residents Allege Discriminatory Placement of a Toxic Landfill


Residents of Uniontown, Alabama, in rural Perry County filed a civil rights complaint last week against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for permitting the Arrowhead Landfill – located in a majority-African American community – to take coal ash and other waste from majority-white communities that is hazardous to residents’ health.

The complaint, filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, asserts that the operation of the Arrowhead Landfill adversely and disparately impacts African American residents, in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

The population of Perry County is over 68% African American, and over 35% of the county’s residents live below the poverty line, making it Alabama’s poorest county. According to the 2010 Census, the population nearest the landfill, located near Uniontown, is 87-100% African American.

The landfill sits only 100 feet from the front porches of some residents, who have experienced frequent foul odors, upset appetite, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. They also complain that fugitive dust from the facility has contaminated their homes, porches, vehicles, laundry and plantings.

More than half a billion gallons of wet coal ash laden with arsenic, lead, and radioactive elements have been trucked to the Arrowhead Landfill since a dike ruptured at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant in Tennessee in December 2008.

Earlier complaints filed with the EPA cited health threats from the landfill, including runoff containing alarmingly high arsenic levels flowing into residential ditches and nearby creeks.

The landfill services 33 states where the predominant race is white. Under federal law, the fact that the percentage of African Americans in the area adversely impacted by the landfill far exceeds the percentage of African Americans in the population served by the landfill is evidence of disparate impact on the basis of race.

The complaint asks EPA’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate whether ADEM violated federal law. If it did, and if it is unable to come up with a less discriminatory alternative, the complaint asks EPA to suspend the millions of dollars in financial assistance ADEM receives from the EPA each year.