Murfreesboro files suit against Middle Point Landfill, alleging new evidence of harmful runoff

By: - August 12, 2022 6:00 am
A Nashville landfill, not operated by BFI. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Nashville landfill, not operated by BFI. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Lawyers for the city of Murfreesboro have filed suit in federal court against the owners of Middle Point Landfill — the latest development in an ongoing dispute pitting one of Middle Tennessee’s fastest growing suburbs against the nation’s No. 2 provider of trash services, Republic Services.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, contains new allegations that Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland called a “game-changer” in a statement released in advance of the legal filing.

Dan Jameson, vice-president of Republic Services, speaks at a May 12 hearing in Rutherford County. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Dan Jameson, vice-president of Republic Services, speaks at a May 12 hearing in Rutherford County. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Landfill runoff containing life-threatening toxins is pouring into a river near the popular Walter Hill Recreation Area, the 35-page lawsuit claims. And groundwater south of nearby Matthew’s Lake has also been contaminated via the East Stones River bordering the landfill, the lawsuit said.

An analysis has found the discharges contain PFAS, a highly toxic chemical linked to cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and other ailments, the lawsuit said.

“According to Republic, they are not polluting the river,” the mayor’s statement said. “The evidence says otherwise. Pollutants at both discharge locations contain a chemical fingerprint that closely matches the leachate from Middle Point.”

The new allegations come after years of resident complaints that crystalized into organized opposition last year to plans that would expand the landfill’s 207-acre footprint by nearly 100 acres. The expansion would have prolonging an estimated 7 years of remaining life at the site by upwards of 25 more years.

The fate of the landfill,  which is the main destination for household waste from one-third of all Tennessee counties, could have far reaching implications far beyond Murfreesboro residents since there are few known alternatives for the trash generated by more than a million Tennessee residents.

The Central Solid Waste Planning Board – an oversight body – twice rejected the waste operator’s expansion plans, in part relying on an investigation by the city of Murfreesboro that found high volumes of aluminum dross in addition to the household trash routinely trucked into the site.  A byproduct of the aluminum industry, dross mixed with other waste can create a chain reaction that generates heat and toxic, flammable gases that can lead to chemical fires and potentially disastrous environmental consequences.

Middle Point operators said Thursday they were in the process of reviewing the legal filing.

“In the last 18 months, Middle Point has invested more than $6 million in landfill infrastructure enhancements, with additional investments planned or already underway,” a statement from the company read. “The community can be assured that Middle Point remains committed to being a safe and responsible landfill operator and good neighbor.”

According to Republic, they are not polluting the river. The evidence says otherwise.

– Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland, in a statement

The lawsuit, which also names subsidiaries BFI Waste Systems of Tennessee and Republic Services of Tennessee, seeks a series of remedies. They include a court order stopping Republic Services from discharging noxious gases into the surrounding community and discharging toxic runoff from the landfill into the East Fork Stones River. The lawsuit also asks a judge to require Republic Services to conduct regular testing of its discharges at the river and at the city’s drinking water intake points.

It also seeks a declaration that the city may enforce its own local laws to stop the landfill from discharging leachate, or landfill runoff, into the city’s sewer system. The longstanding contract between the city and landfill requires the city to take in liquid waste from the landfill in exchange for free trash pick up from Murfreesboro residents, but the composition of the waste has proven damaging to sewer operations.

McFarland noted the city is also taking other steps beyond the lawsuit: the city plans to deliver written notices to Republic Services, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detailing alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. If discharges, gas and odor issues are not resolved within 60 days, the city will file additional claims against Republic Services, he said.

 

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

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