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Health researchers are asking Bristol residents to participate in air quality study

A road leading up to the now-closed Bristol landfill. A sign says 'no waste will be accepted after september 9, 2022.'
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
A road leading up to the now-closed Bristol landfill, taken July 2023.

Researchers are launching a year-long study of Bristol’s air quality to learn if the now-closed landfill is still emitting gas, and if it’s reaching residents’ homes.

For several years, noxious fumes from the landfill have led to complaints from both sides of the state line, and two lawsuits.

Researcher Erin Haynes is Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Kentucky and is the lead researcher in the study. “We want to put the ability of sampling into the residents’ hands,” Haynes said.

Her team is working with the residents of Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia and is inviting anyone who lives in Bristol, as well as nearby areas, to fill out a short survey about smells they notice, or health affects they experience.

They’ll also hang air monitors outside 20 homes in Bristol, to learn exactly what’s in the air. “So that we’re able to see what those chemicals are at what concentrations,” Haynes said.

Prior testing by the city of Bristol has shown that dimethyl sulfate and similar compounds are the major cause of odors coming from the landfill, but the air reaching residents appears to contain hardly any levels of these chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to these gases may cause inflammation of the eyes, mouth, nose and lungs. The agency hasn’t set an amount, for what is considered unsafe to breathe.

Bristol, Virginia closed its landfill in 2022, and was sued by Bristol Tennessee, and by the state of Virginia. It’s now under legal obligation to clean up the site, a project that’s estimated to cost 60 million dollars.

The University of Kentucky College of Public Health has more information about the study and how to participate.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.