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Road spill source a mystery
3 waste-disposal services say they're not at fault for white splatters found throughout Decatur

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

If a garbage truck spills contents onto a local roadway, it constitutes a state health code violation, the Morgan County Health Department reports.

But a week after The Daily reported mysterious white splatters and stripes were appearing on streets throughout the Decatur area, the culprit remains unidentified.

Of three waste-disposal services operating in the area — the Decatur Sanitation Department, Arizona-based Allied Waste Industries (formerly BFI) and Tennessee-based Richardson Waste Removal — all deny their trucks are the source of the spills. They also report they received no complaints concerning spills.

"It's possible, but it's very unlikely that it's us," said Mike Swistec, a spokesman for AWI. "But if you guys decide that a criminal investigation is in order, you know we will cooperate in every way we can."

Company reports

Swistec vowed to inspect the four AWI trucks operating in the Decatur area. He said he would question AWI employees who drive the trucks.

Supervisors with the Decatur Sanitation Department inspected their trucks, reporting no signs of leakage. A Daily inspection confirmed the findings.

A spokeswoman for Richardson Waste Removal said it is unlikely their trucks are the source of the spills since they do not regularly operate in the Decatur area.

Motorists continue reporting spills across the area. The Daily documented spills of varying sizes on Jackson Street Southeast, Somerville Road Southeast, Church Street Southeast Sherman Street Southeast, Point Mallard Drive Southeast and Point Mallard Circle Southeast.

The Daily found no conclusive evidence linking any of the spills to a particular source, but the widespread locations suggest they emanated from a leaking garbage truck during its regular route.

Motorists also report spills on Alabama 67, Central Parkway Southwest, Sixth Avenue and as far away as Morgan County 55 in Falkville. Some of the spills measure hundreds of yards long and several feet wide. Heavy traffic flow spreads them farther.

Whatever the source, the white mark will likely remain on local roads for some time. The public works department attempted to remove one of the spots last month with little success.

"It's probably just going to have to wear off," said Julia Chenault, public works coordinator.

Mayor Don Kyle said he sees how a leaking garbage truck could cause problems in the city, but there is little he can do unless he can conclusively link the spills to a particular source.

He said some cities enter a franchise agreement with local waste haulers similar to Decatur's agreement with Decatur Emergency Medical Service, and that could help the city regulate local garbage trucks.

"That would certainly give us more leverage when dealing with these guys," he said.

All 75 garbage trucks permitted to operate in Morgan County fall under the jurisdiction of the Morgan County Health Department, a state agency.

Fred Vengrouskie, a spokesman for the health department's environmental division, said the state classifies leaking garbage trucks as a public nuisance and health hazard, and violators could be cited.

He also said the state requires all garbage trucks be watertight to prevent leakage and inspections are conducted annually. This year's inspections will begin soon, he said.

Vengrouskie said it would be difficult to catch violators without "micro-managing" the companies, and staff is not available to do that.

According to the health department, none of the above waste haulers are permitted to carry liquid waste, including paint. Chenault said it is unlawful for anyone to place liquid waste in trash bins belonging to any of the companies.

At least one Decatur business owner is not entirely convinced the spills did not come from a garbage truck. Leo Buschard operates a business on Sixth Avenue.

He said he noticed a mysterious white substance near an AWI waste bin in his parking lot about six months ago.

"When I saw the picture you guys ran in the paper, that's immediately what I thought of," he said.

Buschard said he determined the substance came from the AWI truck that emptied his waste bin, and the company came out and cleaned up the mess when he requested it.

"These guys know they're doing it. It's just so early in the morning, nobody catches them," he said.

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