North Birmingham residents hope BlueStone Coke plant makes improvements before reopening

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 10:00 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Residents in North Birmingham are speaking out and demanding change now that the BlueStone Coke Industrial Plant is closed and set to make safety changes. The plant has been ordered to pay nearly one million dollars to Jefferson County for releasing excessive amounts of toxic air pollution.

Owners of the north Birmingham industrial plant will now pay $925,000 to the county after health leaders found violations likely leading to excessive amounts of toxic pollution. Residents said it may be too little, too late.

“I know there was a lot of pollution,” Pastor Thomas Wilder said. “I know there were lots of complaints about it.”

Thomas Wilder is a Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church. It’s about one mile from the BlueStone Coke Industrial Plant.

“I was part of the group that went down to the health department when they were up for their license renewal,” Wilder said. “We did ask for more stringent controls on them, because we felt if there were more controls, that would help the quality of life in the community.”

Wilder said you could notice the air pollution coming from the plant, and while Jefferson County Health leaders don’t know exactly how much emissions were put out, they found safety violations, like door leaks, that likely led to excessive air pollution.

“We don’t have any evidence of pollutants at a level that would cause harm,” said Jason Howanitz with the Jefferson County Health Department. “Failure to monitor those actions, capturing emissions during operations, leak detection and repair questions, do we have proper maintenance going on? It is really related to how the facility was being operated and not properly maintained.”

“There was a lot of ash and a lot of soot that people who lived near the plant said would cover their cars and homes,” Wilder said.

The closed plant is set to pay nearly one million dollars to the county and have new steps to follow before they can apply to reopen, but Wilder said nearby residents are still worried about their health.

“Some people have been dealing with this so long, that their frustration level is so high, they just want to move,” Wilder said. “They just want to go, no matter what the plants does, they are just tired of it. I know it will do some good, but for some people, it may be too little, too late.”

WBRC did reach out to BlueStone Coke for comment, but did not hear back. Officials with the Jefferson County Health Department said they have no requests right now to renew it’s permit to operate. They said it will likely be closed for more than a year.

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