Emelle nation's largest hazardous waste landfill, USA


In 1978, Chemical Waste Management, a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., purchased a landfill permit for a 300-acre tract of land near the village of Emelle in the center of Sumter County, Alabama. In Sumter County, one of the country's most impoverished regions, one-third of the residents live below the poverty level. Over 65 percent of the residents are Black and over 90 percent of the residents near the landfill in Emelle are Black. Since acquiring the landfill, Waste Management Inc. has dumped millions of tons of hazardous waste on what was once lush farmland, creating the largest hazardous waste landfill in the United States, and possibly the world. The landfill receives wastes from Superfund sites and from all 48 contiguous states. Nearly 40 percent of the toxic waste disposed of nationwide between 1984 and 1987 under the federal Superfund removal program ended up at the landfill. The 2,700-acre landfill (360 in use) also sits directly over the Eutaw Aquifer, which supplies water to a large part of Alabama.

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Basic Data
NameEmelle nation's largest hazardous waste landfill, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteEmelle (Sumter County)
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific CommoditiesChemical Waste And Hazardous Materials
Industrial waste
Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAt its peak, the company received almost 800,000 tons of waste per year.
Project Area (in hectares)93
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300-400
Start Date1978
Relevant government actorsAlabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) , United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAlabamians for a Clean Environment; Minority Peoples Council; National Toxics Fund Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes; the National Toxics Fund Campaign; Sierra Club; Greenpeace.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Rally across the State to complain about the facility
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Fires, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite decades of fighting, residents have been unsuccessful in closing the toxic waste facility. However, their complaints gained media attention and prompted some changes, such as a state tax and a series of federal regulations that have caused a decline in the amount of waste buried per year (currently abound 120,000 tons/year). Although ACE dissolved and did not achieve its goal of shutting down the landfill, their experiences have helped the wider environmental justice movement in the United States to fight the emergence of similar injustices in other parts of the country.

However, the future of Emelle is uncertain since most of the people have lost their jobs.
Sources and Materials

EPA's Hazardous Waste Facility Permit
[click to view]

2013. Alabama Department of Environmental Management Land Division- Hazardous Waste Program Division 14 - ADEM Admin. Code r. 335-14-x-.xx
[click to view]


Bullard, Robert D., and Beverly H. Wright. "The quest for environmental equity: Mobilizing the African‐American community for social change." Society & Natural Resources 3.4 (1990): 301-311.

Bullard, Robert D. "In our backyards." EPA J. 18 (1992): 11.

McDermott, Charles J. "Balancing the Scales of Environmental Justice." Fordham Urb. LJ 21 (1993): 689.


University of Michigan's Environmental Justice Case Study: Emelle, Alabama: Home Of The Nation's Largest Hazardous Waste Landfill.
[click to view]

Schmidt, William E. "WHEN THE NEIGHBOR IS A TOXIC LANDFILL." The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Oct. 1985. Web. 10 May 2014. .
[click to view]

Environmental Racism in the Alabama Blackbelt by Robert D. Bullard
[click to view]

Alabama Department Of Environmental Management - Information for Waste/Remediation Programs
[click to view]

Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta Information
ContributorAlejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/07/2015