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Residents battle massive health hazard wreaking havoc on community: 'It's almost like a prison in our own houses'

This situation underscores broader issues of environmental justice and equity.

This situation underscores broader issues of environmental justice and equity.

Photo Credit: iStock

Imagine waking up every morning to the scent of garbage in the air and on your clothes.

This is the reality for residents of Sampson County, North Carolina, where a landfill challenges their health, well-being, and sense of community daily.

What's happening?

As reported by Grist, the Sampson County landfill has been a point of controversy and concern for residents of the Snow Hill neighborhood for more than three decades. 

The landfill was established in 1974, and plans to expand it into a regional dumping site covering 1,300 acres drew backlash from the community in the early 1990s. Despite protests, the landfill continued to grow and is now the largest in the state, attracting waste from 44 counties.

The landfill's operation by GFL Environmental, a Canadian waste management company, has raised questions about the types of waste being disposed of and its impact on the community's well-being.

Why is the Sampson County landfill concerning?

The significance of the landfill extends beyond its physical boundaries, impacting the health and livelihoods of the community. Generations of locals' quality of life has deteriorated because of its presence. 

"We're going in debt buying air purifiers, water purifiers, candles, fly spray, fly traps. The buzzards are picking the shingles off our roofs and the insurance won't pay for it. It's almost like a prison in our own houses," said Taryn Ratley, a fourth-generation resident.

What emanates from the site has led to respiratory issues and discomfort among residents. The environmental risks to the community include concerns about water contamination and harmful air particles.

The situation underscores broader issues of environmental justice and equity. Residents, predominantly African American, argue that the placement and expansion of the landfill in their neighborhood were driven by systemic racism and disregard for their well-being.

This is not the only site of environmental injustice in North Carolina. A civil rights complaint was filed recently over unchecked poultry farms. Residents argued that the lack of regulation on these farms led to major downgrades in water and soil quality in the surrounding area, disproportionately affecting low-income, Black, Native, and Latin American communities.

What's being done about the Sampson County landfill?

Organizations such as the Southern Environmental Law Center and local activists have been raising awareness about the landfill's impacts and pushing for accountability from authorities and waste management companies.

Recent developments, including the approval of an air permit for methane collection by Sapphire RNG and investments in water infrastructure by the state Department of Environmental Quality, suggest a growing recognition of the need to mitigate the landfill's effects. However, community members remain skeptical of these measures, viewing them as inadequate responses to systemic issues.

The fight for environmental justice in Snow Hill continues, with residents demanding comprehensive health assessments, formal community engagement in decision-making processes, and stricter regulations to ensure the landfill's operations do not continue to harm.

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