SELC, Coosa Riverkeeper file federal suit over Oxford, AL wastewater plant pollution

Oxford, Alabama is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Choccolocco Creek runs through town and receives the output from the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which has a history of violating its discharge permit. (© Wikipedia)

After documenting years of noncompliance, SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit Monday to address ongoing violations of the pollution discharge permit for the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oxford, Alabama. The suit targets the ongoing failure of the Oxford Waterworks and Sewer Board, which oversees the plant, to follow the permit’s reporting and monitoring requirements.

Sampling results taken by Coosa Riverkeeper show that the Oxford Plant has continuously discharged extremely high concentrations of E. coli, with some results showing levels hundreds of times greater than the permit allows. The Riverkeeper’s sampling results also show high levels of chlorine, which can harm fish and other wildlife. The plant failed to report any of these violations.

Testing also shows that the Oxford Plant has discharged pollutants into Choccolocco Creek at unpermitted locations, including illegal discharges of formaldehyde, potentially from Kronospan, a nearby fiberboard plant.

“The Oxford Plant has been given plenty of opportunities to clean up its act—numerous notices of violation, enforcement actions, and administrative orders—yet the violations continue,” said Staff Attorney Sarah Stokes. “After a 25-year track record of violations, this is clearly beyond cutting a few corners, and it is unacceptable for a public water treatment plant to disregard the interests of its own citizens.”   

In addition to high levels of bacteria and unpermitted discharges of chlorine and formaldehyde, the Oxford Plant has consistently failed to monitor and report according to the terms of their permit, with 800 monitoring violations in the last three years alone. For example, while the Oxford Plant is required to test for E. coli three times per week under its permit, the plant has frequently tested for E. coli only once or twice per week in the last three years.

“Choccolocco Creek has been polluted and degraded by the Oxford Plant’s actions for far too long,” said Coosa Riverkeeper Frank Chitwood. “It is high time for the Oxford Waterworks and Sewer Board to be held accountable and to stop this pattern of pollution once and for all.”

Click here to read the complaint. 

SELC is also pursuing violations of state water laws at the plant. Following an enforcement suit filed by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and Alabama Department of Environmental Management against plant on September 30th under the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act, SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper have filed a motion to intervene in the state suit.

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