SELC, Coosa Riverkeeper File Federal Suit over Oxford Wastewater Plant Pollution

Birmingham, AL- The Southern Environmental Law Center and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit today against the Oxford Waterworks and Sewer Board for ongoing violations of the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant’s pollution discharge permit, and for failing to follow reporting and monitoring requirements.

Sampling results taken by Coosa Riverkeeper have shown that the Oxford Plant has continuously discharged extremely high concentrations of E. coli, 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.

Sampling results also show 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 Sarah Stokes, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “After a 25-year track record of violations, this is clearly beyond cutting a few corners. 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. For example, while the Oxford Plant is required to test for E. coli three times per week under its permit, the Plant has frequently only 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.

Background:

On August 3rd, SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue against the Oxford Waterworks & Sewer Board for ongoing violations of its pollution discharge permit and for failing to follow reporting and monitoring requirements.

SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper charge that the Oxford Plant has discharged pollutants at unpermitted locations, has submitted incomplete or inconsistent reports, has failed to report its noncompliance notifications as required by the permit, and has violated required sampling methods, with 800 monitoring violations in the last three years alone.

A majority of the violations have occurred at the outfall on Choccolocco Creek, a major tributary of the Coosa River and a popular place for paddling, swimming and fishing, and the base for Floating Fun, LLC, a prominent tubing business in the area.

The main access point for Floating Fun’s tube float trips is located approximately one mile downstream of the treatment plant effluent. Floating Fun reported it has had to turn away customers due to water quality issues on Choccolocco Creek during what would usually be peak summer months for business.

Less than 25 miles downstream from the treatment plant, Choccolocco Creek empties into Logan Martin Lake, another prime fishing spot frequently visited by boaters, paddlers, and swimmers. The Oxford Plant’s polluted discharge frequently causes foul-smelling, visible discoloration of Choccolocco Creek downstream from the discharge point.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are aware of some of the compliance issues and have instructed the plant to follow proper protocol around sampling methods and reporting, but the plant has failed to fix these issues.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office and ADEM filed an enforcement suit against the Oxford Waterworks and Sewer Board for violations at the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment 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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About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

About Coosa Riverkeeper:

Coosa Riverkeeper is a citizen-based river conservation group driven by science and policy with a desire to protect, restore and promote the Coosa River of Alabama. We work towards our vision of a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Coosa River by actively addressing the issues that threaten it. Our team educates our fellow citizens in the Coosa Valley about the importance of our water resources and why we need to protect them. We invite you to explore our informative website and learn more about the Coosa River and Coosa Riverkeeper. www.CoosaRiver.org

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