BRISTOL, Va. — Approximately 150 concerned Bristol residents packed into the train station Tuesday night to share frustrations about Bristol, Virginia’s troublesome landfill and launch an advocacy group while also demanding that the landfill be closed as soon as possible.
“I’m 81 years old. I don’t have long to live. I want to breathe fresh air,” Tina Cook of Forest Hills told those gathered during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Many of the residents of the area regularly affected by the noxious gases emitted from the landfill described symptoms such as nausea, upper respiratory issues, headaches, nose bleeds and fatigue they attribute to fumes from the landfill.
“This is not about the smell,” Jessica Stiles, who recently moved to the area from Nashville, said. “The smell is disgusting, but this is not about the smell. I have been waking up with headaches. I’ve been feeling foggy. … I’m a relatively healthy person, but I am just not feeling well. I am feeling weird and I’m very concerned.”
Stiles said she is considering leaving the area because she does not want to permanently damage her health.
Her symptoms were echoed by several other area residents who were concerned about how the pollution affects them, their children and elderly citizens. Several people were also concerned about property values and whether they could sell their homes in the affected areas.
The Rev. Kris Aaron, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bristol and a Forest Hill resident whose family has been impacted by the landfill, said the purpose of the community meeting was to harness the shared anger and frustration of the group to use it productively while also providing information to help residents advocate for themselves.
A new community group called HOPE for Bristol was announced at the meeting. The acronym stands for Healing Our Polluted Environment.
“Our main goal at this time is the safe, timely and fiscally responsible closure of the Bristol, Virginia landfill,” organizer Joel Kellogg said. “We’re still in the early stages of organizing and development.”
The HOPE group included a community symptom and odor survey. Kellogg asked each household to explain the types of odors they smell and the type of symptoms their families have experienced. Those symptoms included irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; dizziness; headaches; nosebleeds; anxiety; tremors; depression and brain fog.
“I don’t think there is anybody in Bristol that can deny there is a terrible problem,” the Rev. Samuel Weddington of the First Presbyterian Church, and one of the organizers of the event, told those gathered. He said he refers to the smell as “the beast.”
“The beast needs to be seen for what it truly is — gas — toxic gas coming off of that landfill and sweeping through the city this or that way with the wind,” he said.