Bluestone Coke to pay $925,000 for air pollution in Birmingham

A Jefferson County judge signed a settlement agreement between the health department and Bluestone Coke in Birmingham.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Bluestone Coke to Pay $925,000 Penalty to Jefferson County Health Department for air pollution violations at the North Birmingham facility.

The fine is the largest ever imposed by the Jefferson County Health Department.

Bluestone produces coke, a product of coal used in the steel-making process, and there has been a coking plant on the site in North Birmingham for over 100 years.

The plant has been closed since October 2021, when the health department refused to renew its operating permit “based on Bluestone’s inability to operate its machines and equipment in accordance with the Regulations,” the department said in a statement from press.

The now-approved agreement does not allow the plant to reopen yet, but sets out the steps that must be taken for the plant to reopen, including creating a corrective action plan to repair or rebuild equipment necessary to operate within the permit. . limits. The company would also be required to do additional air monitoring around the perimeter of its property and hire an independent auditor to monitor compliance.

The agreement establishes that the company would also have to obtain an operating permit approved by the Department before restarting its operations.

The consent decree was accepted by the environmental group JCDH, Bluestone and Birmingham GASP, which joined the lawsuit as intervener. Circuit Court Judge Patrick Ballard formally approved the settlement Wednesday.

GASP and the Southern Environmental Law Center collected ambient air samples around the plant in 2019 and 2020 showing elevated levels of benzene and naphthalene, two air pollutants associated with coking.

Benzene it is considered a known carcinogen and, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, is known to cause leukemia and blood problems such as anemia.

Naphthalene it is considered a possible carcinogen based on laboratory tests in animals, and the CDC concluded that the substance is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

“This settlement will finally give members of the community a chance to breathe easier and a chance to have a say in how this fine should be spent,” GASP Executive Director Michael Hansen said in a news release. “This consent decree makes it clear that companies like Bluestone Coke cannot continue to pollute without consequence, and that starts with standards that put people, not profit, first.”

The health department says half of the money will go to a special fund created to benefit the community, especially the nearby Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont neighborhoods.

“While civil penalties related to air pollution regulation are not typically invested directly in the community, all parties to the agreement wanted a significant portion of the penalty to be used in a way that would further improve the environment and people’s quality of life. living in the area,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said in a news release.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated an area around the plant in north Birmingham as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, due to soil contamination from numerous sources in the heavy industrialized area. The EPA has been excavating contaminated soil from the area for years.

The facility now called Bluestone Coke has been in business for over 100 years, previously as ERP Compliant Coke, Walter Coke and Sloss Industries Coke.

Bluestone Coke is owned by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who bought the facility in 2019.

justice said West Virginia television station WOWK that his son Jay Justice bought the plant and that he turned over the operations of his companies to his family when he was elected governor.

“You know, in all of that, he’s old. He is very, very, very, very, very old. And then the plant, they tried to run it for a while and everything. The plant was on its last legs and had to be shut down,” Governor Justice told WOWK.

“I think there were some lingering issues, I guess that’s the right word, you know, environmental issues that are all over the place. Now they have solved those environmental problems and are doing whatever it takes.”

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