Today, I was driving down the Old Federal Road off Highway 369 in Forsyth County, Georgia, to watch hobbyists flying model airplanes over a field next to the Etowah River. I recall how my father used to like to take the same route because he was a historian and the Federal Road was important in Georgia history. It is also a beautiful road that runs parallel to hilly farms and country goodness.
On this day, I noticed one of those large farms was for sale. Perhaps the lousy economy in the adjoining area explained why somebody was hoping to part with their beautiful property, but I would bet that it has to do with the fact that directly next to it is the Forsyth County landfill site.
Forsyth County is the 13th wealthiest county in the nation. Several large international companies have recently relocated to the area, including Scientific Games Incorporated (Georgia Lottery) and Tyson Foods (poultry production). Needless to say, the county is doing alright financially, with the exception of the poor people living next to the landfill—a euphemism for trash dump—that is located as far north to the next county line, or as geographically distant from the rest of the county as possible.
I used to commute to Cumming, the county seat of Forsyth County, and regularly passed within a mile of the landfill. In the early morning, especially if it was foggy, the smell from the dump was terrible; like sick green onions mixed with rotten milk. The stink would endure for miles. I couldn’t imagine living there.
But today I saw something very disturbing: a sign outside of a cattle farm that read “Fresh Grass Fed Beef Available Here.” What? Someone was selling cows raised next to the foul dump? Surely those toxic methane trash fumes affect the health of livestock and, hence those who eat the beef.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s website states, “Possibly the biggest health concerns are related to the uncontrolled surface emissions of LFG (landfill gas) into the air. LFG contains carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and odorous compounds that can adversely affect public health and the environment. Emissions of VOCs contribute to ground-level ozone formation (smog). Ozone can reduce or damage vegetation growth and cause respiratory problems in humans. Finally, exposure to HAP can cause a variety of health problems, such as cancerous illnesses, respiratory irritation, and central nervous system damage.”
You may want to read the dry details about landfill gases issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, but trust me that it is disturbing stuff. Sanitation standards are needed for communities that border landfills. The landfills themselves also should have buffer areas between them and residential communities to protect residents from the poisonous gases. Similar regulations are needed for hog farms.
One day, when some unfortunate family sues a county or even the entire state for health problems resulting from landfill gases, maybe the government will take action. Until then, the only option will be to hold your nose when driving by the dumps and, for those living nearby them, to sell their land as quickly as possible.