35th Avenue Superfund Site
The 35th Avenue Superfund Site is a federally-designated area encompassing parts of the Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont neighborhoods in the vicinity of 35th Avenue North. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2012 that high levels of soil pollution made the area eligible for access to a large fund (the "Superfund") of federal money earmarked by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 for clean-up of highly-contaminated areas.
Neighborhood leaders, such as Maxine Parker, led early efforts to draw attention to the possibility that residents' health was being negatively affected by industrial pollution.
Soil sampling conducted by Walter Coke in 2011 identified unhealthy levels of toxic pollutants including arsenic, lead, and Benzo[a]pyrene, a hydrocarbon produced during combustion. The EPA responded to the reports and initially referred to the investigation as the Walter Coke Site. It was later renamed because of the other plants that likely contributed to the pollution. The agency identified two coke oven plants, asphalt batch plants, pipe manufacturing facilities, steel producing facilities, quarries, a coal gas holder and purification system facility, and the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport as potential contributors to soil pollution resulting from airborne contaminants as well as contamination of Five Mile Creek. Investigators later learned that residential developers used slag from industrial suppliers to raise low-lying flood-prone lots. There were 3,585 residents living in the affected area at the time of the 2010 census, almost all of them African-American. 589 were children under the age of seven.
Along with soil testing and investigation, the EPA has worked with the Jefferson County Department of Heath and the U.S. Health Department's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to test residents' blood for lead poisoning and other adverse health conditions attributable to environmental pollutants. The ATSDR's report, released in August 2015, detailed the levels of contaminants present in soil samples it received and recommended that the EPA proceed with remediation efforts while also advising residents about ways to limit exposure. The County Health Department's analysis failed to find a statistically significant pattern when comparing samples from the Superfund area to data from demographically similar populations outside the area.
On September 20, 2013 the EPA notified Walter Coke and four other businesses that they were being considered as "potentially responsible parties". That designation and the legal liabilities that it entails have been challenged by those businesses. Walter Coke alone has negotiated to participate in clean-up efforts, notably at Hudson K-8 School. Drummond Company, whose plant is located outside of the study area, has sued the EPA saying that it failed to provide its attorneys with public documents it requested.
In 2014 the EPA proposed to accelerate clean-up efforts by placing the site on its "National Priorities List". It based its proposal on the fact that the site scored a "50" on the agency's Hazard Ranking System, which weights the potential for pollution to affect human health. A score of 28.5 is usually considered high enough to merit placement on the list. Under that provision, the State of Alabama could be made responsible for shortfalls in assessments made to the businesses deemed responsible.
The listing was opposed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on the stated grounds that such a designation could harm property values and economic development opportunities in the affected neighborhoods. Then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wrote the EPA that. "The State of Alabama has been unmistakably clear that no State money will be expended to assist in any clean-up effort at the 35th Avenue Superfund site." Then State Representative Oliver Robinson also argued against the listing before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission. It was also opposed by the Jefferson County Commission. The site has not been not added to the National Priorities List.
Clean-up efforts conducted under the EPA's supervision have focused on removal and replacement of contaminated topsoils. Rick Jardine has served as the agency's On-Scene Coordinator.As of April 2017 approximately 30,000 tons of soil had been removed from 280 properties, while another 235 parcels have been identified as eligible for clean-up. That effort is expected to continue through 2020 at an estimated total accrued cost of around $20 million.
Potentially Responsible Parties
- ERP Coke,formerly Sloss Industries Coke Plant and Walter Coke.
- Drummond Company's Alabama Byproducts Corporation, a producer of foundry coke located in Tarrant
- Alabama Gas Corporation
- Process Knowledge Corporation, Evolutia, formerly KMAC Greenworks, KMAC Services, industrial and construction salvage (former location of Birmingham Stove & Range Company)
- U.S. Pipe & Foundry's North Birmingham Plant (formerly Dimmick Pipe Company)
- Owens, Cody (November 7, 2013) "North Birmingham Superfund update" Weld for Birmingham
- Underwood, Madison (November 7, 2014) "State fighting EPA drive to add North Birmingham pollution site to Superfund priority list." The Birmingham News
- Owens, Cody (November 18, 2014) "Breathing the air of industry" Weld for Birmingham
- Pillion, Dennis (August 18, 2015) "Samples show arsenic, lead, PAHs, in soil from North Birmingham EPA Superfund site." The Birmingham News
- Faulk, Kent (August 31, 2015) "Drummond lawsuit says EPA has violated Freedom of Information Act." The Birmingham News
- Whitmire, Kyle & John Archibald (May 11, 2017) "Lawmaker under investigation after taking money, fighting Superfund cleanup of toxic neighborhoods." The Birmingham News
- "North Birmingham's 35th Ave EPA Superfund site explained" (May 11, 2017) al.com
- North Birmingham Environmental Collaboration Project at epa.gov
- Superfund Site: 35TH AVENUE, BIRMINGHAM, AL at epa.gov
- Map of the study area at epa.gov
- 5th Avenue Superfund Site at gaspgroup.org