Bristol opened a landfill in an old rock quarry in 1998, despite opposition from residents. The site still accepts household and commercial waste, tires, brush, yard waste and e-waste. Those living close by say they’ve dealt with air pollution for years, though it has intensified since 2019.
Below you’ll find Southerly’s stories about the landfill, testimonies from your neighbors, and links to public records, resource guides, and information about how to access assistance if you’re struggling because of the air pollution.
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Air pollution from a Virginia landfill is making residents sick. Officials won’t call it an emergency.
A chemical reaction taking place below the landfill’s surface is emitting harmful gases.
How to document the pollution
Report it to the city of Bristol
Phone: 276-645-7300 for help getting the form
Report it to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Download Smell My City app
How to access assistance
Connect with your community
- Join the Facebook page “Bristol City-VA/TN Air Pollution Community Page”
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get help purchasing an air purifier
- United Way of Bristol: Visit bit.ly/uw-purifier or call 423-968-4912
- Contact Rev. Samuel Weddington, lead pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn., by private Facebook message
Most commonly reported symptoms
- Headaches and migraines
- Sinus issues and eye and throat irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Coughing, difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or fatigue
- Anxiety, depression and feelings of helplessness
Local voices: How the pollution is affecting you
Erica Nophlin, 37
Nophlin raises her daughters, Jayda and Amaris, and her young cousin, Brzyiah. She recently moved her family to the Belle Meadows area of Bristol, Va.
Until recently, I lived with my two young daughters and a young cousin in a Bristol, Va., apartment about a half mile east of the landfill. I started noticing a stench maybe three to four years back but about two years ago, it got terrible. It smelled like sulfur, thick and nasty. We smelled it on the way to church, on the way to the store, at the playground near the apartment. It started showing up almost every single night and waking us up inside the apartment.
Whenever it was bad, we would get headaches, watery eyes, burning throats and stomach issues. I took my girls to urgent care so many times because they had respiratory problems, and I wanted to make sure they didn’t have COVID-19. The doctors usually told me it was an upper respiratory infection. But this was day after day after day of my children telling me how badly their heads hurt, how badly their throats hurt. We tried everything—Claritin, antibiotics—and nothing took the headaches away.
Dealing with COVID has been enough. Dealing with the effects from this landfill on my babies—it was too much. I moved my family to the far side of town in November, and we stopped having the constant symptoms we were experiencing around those harsh gases. It’s truly a blessing to breathe fresh air outside and inside our home. We still smell the pollution during outings in the city, though.
I did my research on the landfill. All these years, it’s been neglected. Now, for the city to just put out there on the news, “The gases are not harmful, we’re working on it”—that’s not good enough.
Karah Storm, 21
Bristol, Tenn., resident Karah Storm studies social work and criminal justice at Northeast State Community College.
My mom and I have lived on Maryland Avenue in the Fairmount neighborhood for about six years. Everything was fine until about two years ago, when we started noticing a bad smell drifting through the area. It usually came at night and wasn’t too bad. But around August 2020, it began happening nightly. It kept getting worse and began getting into the house in 2021, and you just couldn’t escape it.
We never used to get headaches unless we were super stressed, but the pollution changed that. I get headaches from it a few minutes before I can smell it. At night, I’ll often dream that I’m getting hit on the head and wake up to my head hurting. My mom gets debilitating migraines from it. When we get them, we just want to lie down and take medicine and go to bed. But you can’t do that every day. You just have to push through it.
My mom and I now know the Bristol, Va., landfill is driving the air pollution. What gives me hope about it is HOPE for Bristol, the group that’s been trying to get relief for residents. These people aren’t environmental activists. They just want their peace back. Some of them dedicate, like, 60 hours a week to HOPE. It is very refreshing to see people willing to step up and fight for this community. I’m also proud of how the Bristol, Tenn., City Council has handled this problem. But there’s now a rift between the Bristol, Va., City Council and the community that I don’t think will be healed anytime soon.
Rev. Steven L. Davis Sr., 54
Davis is president and founder of Brothers for Christ Community Response, a ministry that runs a men’s sober living house in Bristol, Va.
My mother, who is 82, lives below the landfill on King Mill Pike. In 2008, I came to Bristol and lived with her. Sometimes, especially on hot summer days, we would smell something foul, like raw sewage or old trash. There were times when we would think there were dead mice under the house. We complained about it but nothing was ever done. People told us, “Well, that’s just the landfill smell over there, so you’ve got to get used to it.” So we accepted it.
The air got significantly worse about two years ago. At that time, my kids and I lived on Tracy Street, even closer to the dump. When the smell would get strong, our breathing would become more difficult and we’d get itchy eyes, runny noses and coughs. My children were constantly sick. Multiple times, I had to evacuate my mother from her King Mill Pike home and take her to a hotel until the air improved.
In 2021, we began learning about the various issues and pollution at the landfill. My kids and I have since moved to Abingdon. We no longer have sinus issues, coughs, itchy eyes or breathing trouble. We can sit on our porch and enjoy ourselves, something we couldn’t do on Tracy Street. But “the Beast” (as many of us call the pollution) still makes my mother miserable in her King Mill Pike home and bothers me at work in Bristol.
People need to understand that this is not a healthy situation and it needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Your voice matters in this. The more people speak up about it, the better, especially those living right beside the dump.