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 plans to characterize and assess environmental concerns in the northern Birmingham communities of North Birmingham, Collegeville, Fairmont, and Harriman Park. EPA intends to complete its assessment as quickly as possible to address potential environmental contamination in the area and protect the health of community members. The plan will include a coordinated effort using 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. 
“EPA entered into an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with Walter Coke, Inc in September, 2012.  Under the AOC, Walter Coke has agreed to conduct RCRA Corrective Measures Studies for numerous Solid Waste Management Units and Areas of Concern on its property, and implement EPA-approved site restoration and/or cleanup remedies for those areas. The AOC is designed to be a roadmap for an effective site-wide cleanup.  EPA has approved a Community Involvement Plan prepared by Walter Coke under the AOC.  In addition to the work being performed under the AOC, Walter Coke is continuing to implement an interim measure (IM) to address a contaminated groundwater plume that has begun to migrate beyond the property boundary in the area of the Former Chemical Plant.  EPA is continuing to monitor progress by reviewing groundwater sampling data.  In addition, the EPA RCRA program has required Walter Coke to conduct a vapor intrusion characterization study.
The vapor intrusion study is designed to determine if vapors from the organic chemicals in the contaminated groundwater plume or soil have moved into overlying buildings. The EPA received the first, second, and third quarterly sampling results for a small vapor intrusion study in Harriman Park, located near the area of the underlying contaminated groundwater plume.  Four soil gas, one crawlspace, and ambient air samples were collected each time.  EPA is reviewing the results and will determine next steps after 4 quarters of data (or 1- years worth) are collected.“
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 at
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. Residents are asked to please contact Stephanie Y. Brown, EPA’s Community Involvement Coordinator, at (205) 326-8640 if there are questions about their soil sample results. EPA has prepared responses to frequently asked questions to provide additional information on the soil sampling data. 
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 the 52 most contaminated properties.  
Presently, the Superfund Enforcement investigation is ongoing. Superfund Enforcement is interviewing potential witnesses regarding activities that contaminated the properties within the Site boundaries, as well as researching the history and background of local industries. Superfund Enforcement is in the process of identifying additional PRPs and evaluating evidence related to the already identified PRPs. 
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 Agency for Toxics Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has completed a Health Consultation of the existing air toxics and soil contamination data and will release its findings in two reports.  The Health Consultation on the 2005 and 2009 soil sampling data was released on February 19, 2013, and made final after a public comment period.  The Air Health Consultation Report is planned for release later this year.  Environmental Justice and community engagement efforts will continue to be coordinated, and we will provide environmental education opportunities to help community members understand the risks associated with exposure to identified pollutants in the area, the regulations governing them, and other related topics.
The EPA Air Toxics program began its involvement in North Birmingham following a December 2008 series of articles in USA Today.  The articles ranked virtually every elementary and secondary school in the country according to its air toxics risk as estimated by USA Today.  EPA responded to the series by conducting short-term monitoring at 65 schools nationwide.  The results of monitoring at schools in North Birmingham suggested the need for a more complete, long-term study in four North Birmingham communities. 
EPA, in cooperation with the Jefferson County Department of Health conducted air toxics monitoring in the Fairmont, Collegeville, Harriman Park, and North Birmingham neighborhoods from the summer of 2011 to the summer of 2012.  The data would be used by EPA to prepare an air toxics risk assessment for each community.  During the sampling period, EPA, JCDH, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management provided seminars for the communities on topics such as air toxics sources, air permitting, mold, radon, lead, and asthma.
EPA presented the results of the risk assessment to the communities in April 2013, and all four risk assessments estimated a 1 in 10,000 lifetime risk.   This risk is within EPA’s acceptable risk range for air toxics, but is at the high end of the range.  Benzene accounted for most of the risk in each community.  Benzene and naphthalene, the second ranking risk driver, together accounted for about 2/3 of the risk in each community.  
Enforcement of air toxics regulations is the foundation for reducing risk.  In the years leading up to the study, a number of new EPA air toxics regulations became effective, including some for coke plants, foundries, and electric arc furnaces, and some for smaller but more numerous sources like gas stations, and auto body shops. JCDH enforces these regulations and imposes fines when violations are identified.
The Clean Air Act authorizes regulations that limit emissions from industry and vehicles.  In order to improve air quality beyond what is achievable through federal regulations alone collaborative approaches  are required.  EPA and JCDH have committed to support the community in efforts to reduce risk and improve air quality.  
Most of this support takes the form of information provided at community meetings and to the North Birmingham Community Coalition.  Examples include the risk assessment itself which identified the air toxics most responsible for the risks; the National Air Toxics Assessment data which help identify the significant sources of these chemicals; JCDH information concerning which stationary sources emit the chemicals of interest; and the EPA Head Quarters report being prepared to compare the approaches used by North Birmingham industry to reduce emissions, with approaches used by similar industry nationally, in order to identify areas for improvement. Additionally voluntary programs such as anti-idling programs and grant programs for diesel emission reduction are available for the community to consider.  
In summary, the EPA and JCDH are working to improve North Birmingham air quality on multiple fronts including regulation, enforcement, and collaboration with the community.

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. 

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.