Bluestone Coke plant that polluted North Birmingham for decades agrees to $925K fine

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Bluestone Coke agreed to pay a $925,000 penalty and submit to new monitoring requirements.

Jefferson County Department of Health on Friday levied the largest fine issued by the agency in it’s history against Bluestone Coke, a coke foundry owned by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice that has released hazardous emissions and pollutants on the surrounding majority-Black communities of Fairmont, Collegeville, and Harriman Park in North Birmingham for years.

Joined by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, Bluestone Coke agreed per the consent decree filed on Friday to pay a $925,000 penalty and submit to new monitoring requirements for potential reopening. Half of the funds received in the fine will go to the creation of green spaces, clearing blight from the area, and environmental projects “for the benefit of the communities adjacent to Bluestone’s plant,” according to the filed consent agreement.

“This agreement will finally give community members a chance to breathe easier and an opportunity to weigh in on how this penalty should be spent,” said GASP Executive Director Michael Hansen in a statement released on Friday. “This consent decree makes it clear that companies like Bluestone Coke cannot continue to pollute without consequences, and that starts with standards that put people — not profits — first.”

The decision comes after ProPublica published a lengthy investigation into the over 100-year-old facility detailing how the facility has impacted the health and well-being of members of the surrounding communities for decades.

The Bluestone plant has remained cold-idle since October of 2021, meaning all production has ceased and the heat has been removed from the coke ovens, allowing for cancer-causing chemical fumes and other toxins to leak from the facility into the surrounding area.

Coke is used as a fuel in the smelting process for iron and steel.

If the plant were to reopen, the county health department mandates that two monitors be installed on the fence line for five years in order to monitor levels of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas harmful to the human repertory system. The plant is required to hire an outside auditor to monitor compliance and develop a Corrective Action Plan, among other measures, according to the consent agreement.

“After years of violating its air pollution permit, Bluestone Coke must be held accountable for its actions,” said Sarah Stokes, a senior attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Alabama office, in a statement on Friday. “We commend the community members of Harriman Park, Fairmont, and Collegeville for bravely standing up for the right to breathe clean air and demanding a better quality of life for their families.”

John is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter.

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Bluestone Coke plant that polluted North Birmingham for decades agrees to $925K fine

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