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Environmental groups sue Bluestone Coke plant in Birmingham

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against Bluestone Coke for violating the Federal Clean Water Act. The action is being taken on behalf of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and the group Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or

GASP for short. The lawsuit follows complaints from the Jefferson County Board of Health that Bluestone Coke failed to pay $300,000 in fines and penalties after agreeing to pay $925,000 for air pollution violations at its coking plant.

A release from the SELC said…

Although Bluestone Coke is not operating, the plant is still discharging harmful and illegal pollutants. The plant has a permit to discharge wastewater into Five Mile Creek, which flows into the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. However, the company has violated that permit more than 390 times and is not maintaining an onsite wastewater treatment facility. Additionally, water sampling by Black Warrior Riverkeeper revealed pollutants in the discharge not allowed by the permit, including barium, strontium, and E. coli.

“Five Mile Creek is a beautiful spring-fed stream that would be regularly enjoyed by locals if it weren’t for all the pollution discharged by Bluestone Coke,” said Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke.

“We must hold the owners of Bluestone Coke accountable for their track record of putting their bottom line in front of the health and safety of Birmingham families,” said Jilisa Milton, Deputy Director of GASP.

“We gave Bluestone Coke 60 days to stop their illegal actions. Because they refuse to keep polluted water from flowing off the property, filing suit is a necessary next step at this point,” said Sarah Stokes, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Bluestone is owned by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who is currently running for U.S. Senate. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the Justice coal empire for failing to pay more than $5 million in civil penalties assessed by the federal government.

The Jefferson County Department of Health also cited Bluestone for violating its air permit by leaking hazardous emissions from coke ovens at the plant. In December 2022, GASP, SELC, Bluestone, and the Jefferson County Department of Health agreed to a consent decree ordering Bluestone to pay a $925,000 penalty to the Department — the largest fine issued in the agency’s 105-year history. 

However, in May, Bluestone failed to pay more than $283,000 of these fines to the health department. The company owes an additional $1,000 every day a payment is late.

For years, residents of predominantly Black neighborhoods near the plant, including Harriman Park, Fairmont, and Collegeville, were exposed to high levels of visible air pollution and noxious odors. Bluestone Coke is in the heart of Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund site, where the Environmental Protection Agency has remediated more than 650 residential properties due to dangerous levels of industrial pollution in the soil.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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