Michael Hansen is executive director of the Birmingham environmental group, GASP. He showed me a map.
“This is Bluestone Coke. We did testing back in here and over here.”
Hansen partnered with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice advocacy group last October to analyze air quality test results near Bluestone Coke. The facility heats coal to produce metallurgical coke — a key component in the operation of foundries and the production of iron and steel.
It’s near Birmingham’s Harriman Park neighborhood — one of three neighborhoods within the EPA’s 35th Avenue Superfund site.
Test results from GASP and the Center for Health, Environment & Justice
According to EPA documents, both chemicals are associated with coke plant emissions.
Naphthalene and benzene risks
The EPA says that naphthalene, a possible human carcinogen, can cause chronic inflammation of the lungs and nasal inflammation, as well as headaches, nausea, and anemia following acute exposure.
Benzene, a known human carcinogen, can cause dizziness, headaches, eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation.
“So, it’s confirmation and that’s really important. For many years, this community has built up a lot of distrust in the government and industry who have been telling them that there’s no risk,” Hansen said.
Residents have health problems
Marva Ingram has lived about a mile and a half from the plant for 33 years. She suffers from chronic bronchitis, asthma, COPD and anemia. She’s lost about 44 pounds in five years.
She showed me the pills she takes each day and one of her inhalers.
“How often do you take that?” I asked. “Once a day,” Ingram said.
“So, without that, what would breathing be like?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t be breathing,” she said.
“Is it frightening for you to live here?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” Ingram said.
“In what way?” I asked.
“I live in, what I say, Hell. If this is what going to Hell is like, I’m living in it,” Ingram said.
Keisha Brown has lived near the plant since she was a child. She has asthma.
“It’s like ‘Oh, something’s on fire.’ But it’d be the burning of the plant. Those chemicals up there,” Brown said.
The air quality test results make Brown angry.
“That means it’s still deadly and dangerous to live out here. Something needs to be done. I don’t know why people act like it’s not a problem because it is,” Brown said.
Bluestone Resources, which is led by Jay Justice, the son of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, bought the coke plant last August from ERP Compliant Coke. Before that, Walter Energy owned it, among others. The plant has operated for 100 years.
A Bluestone spokesman said in a statement, “While the company is unable to speak to the purported findings of a special interest group that ultimately wants to shutter energy employers and put thousands of Americans out of work, the reality is that this facility is in compliance with its EPA consent agreement and will continue to ensure it is meeting all environmental and public safety obligations.”
Marva Ingram has a message to send.
“Get me out of here,” she said.
What the Jefferson County Department of Health says
The Jefferson County Department of Health monitors air quality for several other pollutants continuously.
The health department and the EPA are reviewing GASP’s test results for naphthalene and benzene.
The last time those two government agencies tested for those two chemicals in North Birmingham was about seven years ago.
The health department says those chemicals are not tested for routinely because they require a more detailed study.
You can read more about the test results from GASP and the Center for Health, Environment & Justice here: