News | December 7, 2021

Bluestone Coke shuts down, providing relief for surrounding communities

Many neighbors in the area surrounding the Bluestone Coke facility have a history of heart, lung, and neurological health problems, including cancer. (Credit: Julie Dermansky)

In a significant development that will provide immediate relief for surrounding communities overburdened by its pollution, Bluestone Coke in North Birmingham has reportedly ceased all operations of its facility.

The plant had been violating its air pollution permit for over a decade. Residents of predominantly Black neighborhoods near the plant, including Harriman Park, Fairmont, and Collegeville, have been exposed to high-levels of toxic and visible air pollution and noxious odors for years. Many neighbors in the area also have a history of heart, lung, and neurological health problems, including cancer.

“Bluestone going cold will bring immediate and potentially permanent relief to the communities around the plant,” says Michael Hansen, Executive Director of GASP. “After hearing from local residents for years about ongoing health issues that have continued to impact their lives, our hope is that the plant’s long history of violations will finally come to an end.” 

In October, SELC intervened on behalf of GASP in an enforcement action filed in state circuit court by the Jefferson County Department of Health against Bluestone for persistently violating its permit and the Clean Air Act. A trial is scheduled to take place in November 2022.

Bluestone going cold will bring immediate and potentially permanent relief to the communities around the plant.

Michael Hansen, GASP Executive Director

GASP and SELC collected ambient air samples in 2019 and 2020 around the plant for lab analysis, which showed elevated levels of benzene and naphthalene, two toxic air pollutants associated with coking. Using ovens that burn coal to produce coke, a high-carbon fuel used for steelmaking, the coking process emits carcinogens, particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants.

Cooling a coking plant irreparably damages many of the plant’s essential components. To resume operations, Bluestone will have to substantially or completely rebuild the plant.

“The Jefferson County Department of Health, which permits the facility, and Bluestone agree that if the plant is re-built, Bluestone will have to obtain new permits to safely operate it,” says Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes, a lead attorney on the case. “We’ll closely monitor developments and vigorously oppose attempts to revive the plant without highly effective safeguards.”

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