Camden, Tenn., Residents Speak out Against Landfill They Say Is Making Them Sick



Tuesday evening in Camden, Tenn., more than 150 community members arrived for a public hearing in the Benton County Courthouse to express their anger at a local landfill. Area residents, specifically those living within a one-mile radius of a five-acre dump site operated by Environmental Waste Solutions (EWS), have complained of a strong ammonia smell that arises multiple times a week — an odor they say is so potent they must confine themselves inside their homes to escape the toxic fumes.

“First time I noticed it, I got out of my truck, and I thought I was gonna pass out before I got to the front door,” resident Roy Sharpe said during the hearing.

The Class II industrial landfill — which collects waste from neighboring counties and cities, including Nashville — began recycling aluminum waste in 2007 and processing a waste product called aluminum dross. When dross comes into contact with water, it emits flammable and toxic gases such as ammonia, which can reach unsafe levels if not properly managed. The EWS dump site borders Camden’s wetlands and large creeks.

In the Tuesday hearing, residents living in proximity to the dump spoke of suffering from extreme respiratory illness, breathing problems and other serious medical conditions that they associate with the chemicals being released. “It’s been at least seven to 10 months ago that I started to smell it," Sharpe said. "I’ve got congestive heart failure since. I’ve got cancer since.”

A Benton County resident becomes emotional at Tuesdays hearing
Within the last year — which is when residents say they really began to notice and suffer from the smells — multiple complaints have been issued to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) concerning the unhealthy release of gases from the site of the landfill.

On Feb. 15, EWS, the company in charge of the landfill, installed a system intended to help mask the ammonia odor and reduce the readings to less than five parts per million, which is considered the level at which people notice the smell. Monitors were installed by EnSafe, an environmental technology consulting company, to detect the exact levels of ammonia in the air. While the company insists that it has taken steps that should monitor and reduce the levels of ammonia, residents say they don’t notice any changes in air quality or their health.

“I thought the federal government, the state and the county government would protect my environment and my right to have a clean environment," said resident Charles Hubbs. "I’m disappointed that they’re not.”

Concerned residents of Benton County say they are even more frightened by what they can’t smell: They worry that other harmful gases such as methane, hydrogen and acetylene are being emitted from the landfill — which along with the ammonia could contribute to extreme health concerns.

Meanwhile, EWS hopes to expand its operation to include another 42 acres, which multiple sources at the hearing said could bring 12 to 17 new jobs to Benton County. For those already living and working near the landfill, though, that's not reason to breathe easier.

Alex Becker, a student at Skidmore College, is a Scene summer intern.

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