BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – A letter to the Bristol, Virginia city manager from the BVU Authority reports two additional violations at the Bristol Virginia Sanitary Landfill for high levels of the carcinogen benzene.
It is the latest in a series of benzene violations Bristol residents said affect them medically, in addition to the discomfort caused by an often overwhelming smell coming from the landfill.
A letter addressed to City Manager Randall Eads said two instances of high benzene levels were reported in violation of the landfill’s industrial wastewater permit.
The maximum limit for benzene is 0.07 milligrams per liter. A sample on Oct. 10 reported benzene at 1.68 milligrams per liter.
On Oct. 28, benzene was reported at 4.09 milligrams per liter, more than 58 times the maximum limit.
City Manager Randall Eads confirmed the letter to News Channel 11 at Tuesday night’s Bristol, Va. City Council meeting.
High benzene levels are nothing new in the landfill’s wastewater. A previous BVU report listed samples in violation dating back to June 2019.
At the City Council meeting, Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia residents once again called on the city to declare a local emergency in the hopes that doing so could bring aid from state and federal governments.
Eads downplayed the calls, saying a local emergency would not provide the help Bristol residents need.
“Declaring an emergency does not necessarily open up any state or federal funds for the City of Bristol in this situation, nor does it help us get any sort of resources at this time,” Eads said.
Representatives from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management were in attendance. They told the council that they could not provide any money from the state if an emergency was declared.
The department’s capacity would only be to help the city find the resources it needs to combat the emergency, but the city would have to pay for anything procured by the state.
Angry residents affected by the landfill smell protested outside Bristol, Va. City Hall before the meeting. Some carried signs that said, “YOU’RE BEING POISONED.” Other signage called on the Virginia governor and the federal government to help.
Bristol, Virginia resident Tammy Goodson was one of the protesters. She said the landfill smell has dramatically affected the health of her family.
“I have COPD. I use oxygen at night and even with the oxygen on, I’m waking up gagging, gasping for breath,” Goodson said. “My 9-month-old grandson is getting sick from it. He’s actually vomiting.”
Those Bristol residents are still desperate for relief, especially those in Bristol, Virginia. Low-income Tennessee residents have the opportunity to receive a free air purifier for their homes from the City of Bristol, Tennessee.
The City of Bristol, Virginia offers no such program.
Residents and organizations from across Bristol raised over $7,000 to purchase 41 air purifiers for heavily affected neighbors of the landfill. They hoped the multi-filter unit could eliminate odors inside of people’s homes so they can sleep and breathe without issue inside.
Organizers distributed the 41 purifiers at the John Wesley United Methodist Church right across the street from Bristol, Va. City Hall an hour before the council meeting started.
Shawnta Helton received two purifiers for her home. She told News Channel 11 that she was excited to start them up directly after the protest.
“You open the refrigerator. Turn on the water. The smell is in your home. You can’t get away from it,” Helton said. “Hopefully, it’ll take down some of the stink and help us to be able to breathe a little better.”
Goodson said people need help from their governments to be able to live in their homes again immediately, and that residents should not have to fund their own relief efforts for their communities.
“We need our local governments and the city council to care about us,” Goodson said. “We’re not looking for money. We’re not trying to sue the city. We just want fresh air.”
Samuel Weddington, an organizer for the air purifier distribution, said another shipment of 35 purifiers is expected to arrive this week. He plans to make an additional order after that.