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Cleanup Process in the North Birmingham Environmental Collaboration Project

Why is EPA here?

EPA is evaluating the environmental condition of the area related to current and historical industrial activities that have affected the environment in these north Birmingham communities. Some industrial facilities are regulated under the EPA’s Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and/or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act environmental laws. Activities at these facilities which are subject to these laws are overseen by either EPA or a State/local agency through delegation agreements.
In 2009 the EPA started a national screening survey of air toxics concentrations at schools. EPA sampled the air outside three north Birmingham area schools.  The results of this short-term screening indicated that sampling for more data from a longer study was warranted.  EPA and the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) conducted a year-long air toxics evaluation in four communities – Fairmont, Collegeville, Harriman Park, and North Birmingham.  EPA prepared risk assessments, and found that the long-term risk based on these monitoring data was the same in each community monitoring site.  The risk fell within the range that has been defined as acceptable for air toxics, but it is at the upper end of this range.  As a result, EPA and JCDH continue efforts to reduce air pollution risks by enforcing air pollution regulations and working with the North Birmingham Environmental Collaborative Project to improve air quality through collaborative approaches that go beyond regulation.
Healthy watersheds support a variety of important uses, such as swimming, fishing or sources of drinking water.  Everyone lives in a watershed, which is defined as a geographic area that drains to a common waterway, such as a lake, river, or stream. The communities of North Birmingham, Fairmont, Collegeville, and Harriman Park are located within two watersheds: the Five Mile Creek Watershed and the Village Creek Watershed. The Five Mile Creek watershed resides completely within the boundaries of Jefferson County and drains approximately 78 square miles. The headwaters originate at the eastern base of Red Mountain in Center Point and flow westward to the Black Warrior River.  The Village Creek watershed begins near Roebuck and flows 44 miles southwest into the Black Warrior River. 
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is made up of many sections that address different issues related to protecting the water. In general, it requires that the waters of the nation be fishable, swimmable and drinkable (called designated uses). The CWA requires states to set water quality standards to protect and manage their streams, lakes and rivers to minimize or eliminate pollution.  When the water quality does not meet the standards set by the state, the water is determined to be impaired.
For the state of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has identified the designated uses of Five Mile Creek to include: contact recreation (swimming, etc.), fishing, industrial and agriculture uses, and propagation (breeding) of fish and wildlife.  For the portion of Five Mile Creek immediately to the north of the City of Birmingham, all of the designated uses are categorized by ADEM as impaired. The cause for the impairments was determined to be most likely from industrial discharge.  The contaminants that ADEM determined did not meet state water quality standards includes: ammonia, toxic organics (PAHs) and inorganics (cyanide), organic enrichment (CBOD), and zinc.  
Village Creek, which is currently listed as impaired, has a designated use of limited warm water fishery.  The causes of impairment are listed as heavy metals, pH, siltation, pathogens and pesticides.  These impairments are most likely caused by a variety of sources such as industrial discharge, historical mining activity, landfills, municipal stormwater, and sanitary sewer overflows.
Once waterbodies are determined to be impaired and listed on a state’s 303(d) list, the CWA requires the state to develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  The term TMDL refers to the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and maintain water quality standards for its designated use. So far, TMDLs for sediment, zinc, and pH have been developed, and can be found on EPA’s ATTAINS website.  
The EPA continues to work with ADEM and other federal, state, and local partners to improve water quality in the Five Mile Creek and Village Creek Watersheds with the goal of restoring both watersheds to their designated uses.
EPA’s Region 4 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) program has a historic federal regulatory role on facility cleanup issues with the Walter Coke manufacturing plant (circa 1881).  This program manages the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (HSWA), which were created largely in response to citizen concerns that existing methods of hazardous waste disposal, particularly land disposal, were not safe.  The EPA RCRA program is currently providing oversight to Walter Coke to ensure environmental and public health protections are in place for groundwater, surface water, soils, and sediments.

What is EPA doing?

EPA is approaching the environmental assessment of the designated communities in the North Birmingham area in a comprehensive manner that includes Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Superfund (SF), Air, Water, Environmental Justice and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Programs.  The Agency is addressing environmental contamination in the northern Birmingham communities of Collegeville, Fairmont, and Harriman Park. The coordinated approach uses RCRA and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) authorities to focus on environmental conditions in the area. 
EPA will continue to provide environmental education opportunities to help community members understand the risks associated with exposure to identified pollutants in the area, as well as the regulations governing them. As part of that process, EPA will provide periodic updates on our activities and there will be a number of upcoming public meetings focusing on the community’s environmental issues. 

On September 17, 2012, the EPA issued a RCRA 3008(h) Administrative Order on Consent (Order) to Walter Coke.  Under this 2012 Order, Walter Coke agreed to study remedy alternatives and implement EPA-approved cleanups for the following five areas covering the ~400 acre facility, see map

1. Biological Treatment Facility

2. Land Disposal Area

3. Coke Manufacturing Plant

4. Former Chemical Plant

5. Former Pig Iron Foundry. 

Following a July 2015 bankruptcy, the Walter Coke facility was purchased by ERP Compliant Coke, LLC in February 2016.  As part of the bankruptcy settlement, the new owner assumed the environmental responsibilities identified in the EPA 2012 Order with Walter Coke.  On August 10, 2016, the 2012 Order was modified and re-issued to note the ownership change. 

Each of the five areas noted in the EPA Order are currently being studied to identify protective cleanup goals and to evaluate cleanup options that can achieve these goals.  Due to the size and complexity of the site, the EPA is phasing its review attention.  Although draft remedies have been proposed for each area, the Agency is currently focused on making a final cleanup decision at the Former Pig Iron Foundry and the Former Chemical Plant, the latter of which has been the focus of community concerns related to the mineral wool piles located along the facility fence-line.  It is anticipated that the recommended cleanup options for these two areas will be presented for public comment in 2017. 

The 2012 Order to Walter Coke, whose requirements are now mirrored in the 2016 Order with ERP Compliant Coke, also imposed Interim Measures on a groundwater plume that was migrating offsite form the Former Chemical Plant. The Interim Measures system, which consists of 6 groundwater pumping wells that have been operating since late 2013, is designed to "pull" the contaminated plume back onto the property and to keep elevated levels of contamination from continuing to migrate offsite.  It is likely that this Interim Measures will be part of the final remedy for the Former Chemical Plant.  In addition, Walter Coke was required to conduct a vapor intrusion characterization study.  This year-long vapor study, which was designed to determine if vapors from the organic chemicals in the contaminated groundwater plume or soil have moved into overlying buildings, was completed in 2014.  The EPA concurs with the facility’s report that the potential for vapor intrusion from nearby contaminated groundwater has been adequately investigated, and vapor intrusion from the groundwater plume appears to have little potential to increase contaminant concentrations in indoor air.  In addition, ERP Compliant Coke’s operation of its groundwater removal system at the Former Chemical Plant helps to further reduce the source of potential vapors in offsite areas.

EPA is using its Superfund authorities to assess nearby communities for the possible presence of pollutants.  This Superfund assessment will be based on sound science, identify potentially responsible parties, and determine appropriate next steps in the community.  The Superfund Program is focused on identifying and addressing contamination within the Superfund Site area referred to as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site.  The Site includes areas of the communities of Fairmont, Collegeville and Harriman Park, and Five Mile Creek.  The EPA has expanded the Site boundary to include all of the Collegeville community. EPA began its assessment by seeking access to residential properties in October 2012 and sampling approximately 1100 properties. EPA started a cleanup in February 2014 to remove contaminated soil found at 52 properties located in Fairmont, Collegeville, and Harriman Park. Technical documents and updates on the Superfund cleanup progress can be found on the On-Scene Coordinator website.  Exit

Soil samples collected were analyzed for semi-volatile organic compounds, metals (including arsenic and lead) and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including benzo (a) pyrene, benzo (a) anthrocene, and benzo (b) fluoranthene. As part of the ongoing EPA investigation designed to collect information and to determine what actions to take to address community environmental concerns EPA mailed sample results to property owners and tenants.

In September 2011, the EPA Superfund began a search for potentially responsible parties (PRPs). By the end of September 2013, the EPA had identified five PRPs: Alabama Gas Corporation (a/k/a Alagasco), Drummond Company, Inc., Process Knowledge Corporation (d/b/a KMAC Services), U.S. Pipe & Foundry, LLC (USP), and Walter Coke. All of these companies were contacted and given the opportunity to negotiate with the EPA regarding the clean up of the 52 most highly contaminated properties. By the end of January 2014, all five PRPs declined to negotiate the clean up of the 52 properties. In February 2014, the EPA began clean up of the 52 most contaminated properties.

Clean up occurred in the phases below:

Phase 1: This phase included residential properties where soil concentration for arsenic and benzo[a]pyrene exceeded ten times the Removal Management Levels, RMLs, or three times the RMLs for lead. About 11,300 tons of contaminated soil were removed during this phase.

Phase 2: This phase included residential homes and schools where soil concentrations exceeded the RMLs. About 11,500 tons of contaminated soil were removed.

Phase 3: This phase included residential homes where soil concentrations for arsenic and benzo[a]pyrene exceeded two times the RMLs.

Phase 4: This phase has begun to address the remaining 260 properties and is moving forward to gain access to the remaining 900 properties for sampling.

The EPA will continue the cleanup and collaborate with the City of Birmingham and local elected officials to develop and implement governmental controls to manage the contaminated soils left in place.  Governmental controls impose restrictions on land or resource use using the authority of a government entity.  Typical examples of governmental controls include zoning or building codes.

The goal of the Water Protection Division of EPA is to improve water quality and restore streams to their intended uses.  In 2011 and 2012, the EPA Water National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Enforcement Program conducted inspections to assess compliance at the ABC Coke and Walter Coke facilities.  A letter of concern identifying deficiencies and concerns was issued to Walter Coke, in March, 2012.  Walter Coke provided responses in April and June, 2012.  EPA conducted a follow up inspection in November 2012. 

In April 2013, EPA issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Walter Coke for deficiencies in their Storm Water Best Management Plan that were identified during compliance inspections. EPA is continuing to work with Walter Coke to ensure concerns are addressed. 

In September 2013, EPA entered into an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with ABC Coke for an unauthorized discharge of process wastewater. In November 2013, EPA worked with ADEM to put appropriate permit conditions in the ABC Coke permit for the discharge.   

The City of Birmingham is developing a comprehensive watershed management plan for the Village Creek Watershed. Steps for this watershed management plan are below:

1. Develop a complete and implementable watershed management plan and an improved flood warning system for Village Creek

2. Construction and reorientation of the Harriman Park facility and acquisition of the surrounding land parcels

3. Acquisition of land parcels between Bethel Baptist Church and Maclin Park, including properties associated with the pending FEMA buyout grant.

4. To address flooding and polluted stormwater, the City is collaborating with EPA Southeast and the Office of Research and Development on the development of an online stormwater calculator that will incorporate cost/benefit analysis for green versus gray infrastructure.

On Friday, July 15, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied two petitions filed by Gasp, an Alabama non-profit group that advocates for clean air.  Gasp filed the petitions claiming that the permits do not assure compliance with general State Implementation Plan rules prohibiting air pollution at the Walter and ABC Coke Plants in North Birmingham, Alabama. 

EPA denied the ABC Coke and Walter Coke petitions filed by Gasp on the basis that Gasp did not demonstrate that the permits are not in compliance with the Clean Air Act. Specifically, Gasp did not demonstrate:

  1. That the permits need additional conditions to assure compliance with the general prohibition against “air pollution;”
  2. That the permit conditions governing fugitive dust are too vague or too restrictive; and
  3. That Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) failed to provide Gasp with sufficient emissions information to participate meaningfully in the permitting process.

This Order constitutes a final action on the Title V petitions submitted by Gasp and subsequently published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, August 3, 2016


What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process, providing all a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. 

Environmental Justice = Healthy, Sustainable, and Equitable Communities

Creating healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities is a priority of the federal government. Environmental Justice plays a key role in an integrated effort that addresses housing, environment, transportation and health issues. Below is essential information on key authorities and federal initiatives that address this integrated approach to environmental justice. 

The Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice provides a forum to collectively advance these principles. Our Brownfields program support the goals of the Region 4 Interagency Workgroup (IWG) by building capacity in the community and the City of Birmingham by providing training and technical assistance on the subject of brownfields and redevelopment.  

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is the concept that everything we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.

EPA efforts in the area of sustainability practices and approaches include labeling green products and promoting green chemistry and engineering, managing materials rather than creating waste, using green infrastructure to manage storm water runoff, and supporting the sustainable design of communities.

An example of our sustainability efforts in North Birmingham are $42,000 in Stormwater/Green Project Funds were used to provide a technical assistance contract that provided the City of Birmingham's Stormwater Division with a detailed analysis of local climactic conditions, existing stormwater ordinances, and regional permitting examples, followed by recommendations specific to the City.  Birmingham has since contracted to rewrite their codes and ordinances, using EPA’s technical assistance recommendations to inform their decision making process.