The Slatest

New York Sends “Poop Train” to Small Alabama Town, Where It’s Been Stuck for Months

Map of Alabama
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock and Apple.

A “poop train” with millions of pounds of excrement carted in from New York has been stuck in a rural Alabama town for months now in regulatory purgatory, and no one knows when it will leave.

The town of Parrish, Alabama, population 982, has been taken over by the stench, which residents describe as more of a rotting carcass smell with a whiff of human waste, due to the way it was treated. (It’s technically called “biosolids.”) The train is stuck in a rail yard next to a softball field. People can’t sit outside, children can’t play outside, and the town is considering rescheduling little league games. The threat of the summer heat looms.

Adding insult to injury, this is New Yorker poop that has taken their town hostage. According to the Associated Press, New York doesn’t have the space for the biowaste itself, and federal law bans the state from dumping it in the Atlantic Ocean. So, since early 2017, it has been sent by train down to Alabama, where the land is inexpensive and zoning laws are lax, destined for the Big Sky Environmental landfill, roughly 20 miles east of Parrish.

The train is stuck because of another town nearby that had been suffering from the arrangement. Originally the sludge was transferred to trucks in the town of West Jefferson to be transported to the landfill. But the town got fed up with the smell and the flies it attracted. In January, officials filed an injunction against the landfill to prevent the biowaste from being stored in the rail yard in their town. They succeeded in stopping the shipments, but the trains already on their way had to end up somewhere. So they got stuck in Parrish, which didn’t have zoning regulations to save them. According to CNN, the 2-square-mile town is now the holding ground for 10 million pounds of poop.

“Would New York City like for us to send all our poop up there forever?” one resident asked the AP.

In March, CNN reported, the town’s mayor met with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to ask for help. She and several lawmakers promised to help, but nothing has happened. The town cannot take to the courts for a resolution, because a lawsuit could keep the poop train in town until it is settled. The town is considering creating zoning laws to protect itself from future abuses, but the current poop train menace remains. No one knows for sure when it will leave.

According to the AP, it’s common for Northern states to ship their waste to rural areas in the South, and landfills on inexpensive land can make good money from the practice. An Alabama attorney general once described one of Alabama’s landfills as “America’s biggest industrial pay toilet.”

New York, for its part, has discontinued shipping its waste to Alabama.