Surprisingly enough, no one wants the poop train.
Not the city of New York, which paid an Alabama landfill company to take it. Not small towns in Pennsylvania, where several sites recently stopped accepting the city's treated human waste. And not the town of West Jefferson, Alabama, where the waste, a product called biosolids, was transferred to dump trucks at the local rail yard. The town recently won an injunction to stop the landfill company, Big Sky Environmental, from using their town as a transfer point.
That federal court decision stranded roughly 250 containers full of treated New York sewage one town over, chilling on rail cars in the tiny town of Parrish, Alabama.
Residents of West Jefferson aren't happy. "I had to go right back into my house because the smell took your breath away," Parrish resident Carry Ann Morgan said. "It's the dookie train," said Nicholas A. Hammond, Parrish's director of parks and recreation, who said the train was roughly 75 yards away from a town baseball diamond.
The overwhelming smell now polluting the air as the days get warmer underscores how easy it is for something to go wrong in the nation’s fragile sewage-disposal system. New York City once sold its biosolids to farmers as fertilizer until the city decided that method was too expensive, opting instead to ship sewage to cost-saving landfills.
Until recently, one of those sites was the landfill run by Big Sky Environmental. But New York City cancelled its contract with the company after Parrish residents complained about the smell, and the company has begun to move cars out of the area.
While there's finally a solution in sight for residents of Parrish, New York still has a big problem: an endless stream of waste that has to be dealt with — without breaking the bank or offending anyone's olfactory system.
This segment originally aired April 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.