News | October 21, 2021

Court grants GASP, SELC voice in Birmingham air enforcement case

North Birmingham is home to two of 14 coke plants in the U.S., including Bluestone Coke. (@Julie Dermansky)

An Alabama state circuit court has granted GASP and the Southern Environmental Law Center’s motion to intervene, filed by the groups in order to stop ongoing air pollution violations at the Bluestone Coke plant in North Birmingham.

The Bluestone Coke plant has 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.

“Not a day goes by that this pollution doesn’t directly affect me—I’m afraid to let my grandkids play outside during the summer because the air quality is so poor and I worry about their health,” said Lamar Mabry, a lifelong Collegeville resident. “Bluestone Coke should not be allowed to operate at the expense of my family’s quality of life.”  

Using ovens that burn coal to produce coke, a high-carbon fuel used for steelmaking, the “coking” process puts out carcinogens and particulate matter.

Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes, left, works with a University of Alabama Birmingham class member to install an air monitoring device on a North Birmingham church.

The Jefferson County Department of Health recently cited Bluestone for serious violations of its permit intended to protect air quality from hazardous emissions from leaking coke ovens at the plant, which the company failed to address. In August, the department denied Bluestone Coke’s application to renew its Title V Operating Permit, which is required by the Clean Air Act.

Bluestone appealed the permit denial to the Board of Health and quickly obtained a stay of the denial from the hearing officer, allowing the plant to continue to operate while the permit proceeding is pending. The health department also filed a clean air enforcement action against Bluestone Coke in Jefferson County Circuit Court for longstanding and ongoing violations of state and federal air pollution laws. The circuit court granted GASP and SELC’s motion to intervene in this case.

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. Many neighbors in the area have a history of heart, lung, and neurological health problems, including cancer.

“We want to ensure that any compliance plan for Bluestone protects surrounding communities who have borne the brunt of this pollution,” said Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes, “and that all legal measures are required to prevent future violations.”