The worst oil spill in the history of the United States has been for all intents and purposes stopped. But what remains is a mess on all fronts. A raging debate has been ignited in the Gulf between BP, government officials, and area leaders about how to handle cleanup refuse. The Washington Post reports that the oily trash and soiled booms from the BP oil spill are making their way into area landfills. And local residents are worried that the greatest American oil spill of our time is going to end up seeping in their backyards.

The BP oil disaster created more than 45,000 tons of garbage from the solid oil and materials used to gather it. This has been shipped to nine landfills in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida that store regular residential trash and non-hazardous industrial waste. As the Post reports, waste from oil and natural gas exploration and production is exempt from federal hazardous-waste regulations. Therefore, it can be dumped in industrial-graded landfills, many of which exist near residential areas.

And this has people deeply concerned. Doctors have well-documented the serious health effects associated with oil spills. Contact with oil and chemicals can affect the lungs, kidneys, and liver. The government has responded by issuing a 34-page plan directing BP to recycle and reuse as much oily trash as it can. Further, they have posted trash information online in an attempt to sooth resident’s fears.

Marlin Ladner is a member of the Board of Supervisors in Harrison County, Mississippi, where BP is planning to dump refuse into the Pecan Grove Landfill. As Ladner told the Post, "It was really like a slap in the face to the people of Harrison County to pollute our shores with the oil and then turn around and put it in the ground five miles north. It's like somebody dumping waste in your front yard, and then putting it in your back yard." As CNN reports, the county estimates that 1,200 tons of oil-tainted byproduct has already been placed there.

Others point to a racial bias. Robert Bullard is director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He reveals that 61 percent of the trash is going to landfills in minority and low-income communities. According to Bullard, "Low-income and minority communities are getting dumped on in a way that is so overwhelming that it should raise eyebrows … Our communities get zoned for garbage. They were able to get a meeting with BP and stop the dumping."

The EPA has pledged that communities will have access to information about the decision-making process. In the meantime, the Post reports that 91 miles of oily boom are still out in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays.

For further reading:

Waste from Gulf oil cleanup pollutes local landfills
Oily trash and soiled booms are filling local trash dumps, much to residents' dismay.