Birmingham, Ala. — In a significant legal development, Black Warrior Riverkeeper and GASP, with legal representation by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have initiated legal action against Bluestone Coke for breaching the Federal Clean Water Act.
Despite the non-operation of the Bluestone Coke plant, the facility continues to discharge illicit and harmful pollutants, constituting a clear violation of its wastewater discharge permit into Five Mile Creek, a tributary of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. Alarming data reveals over 390 instances of permit breaches, coupled with the absence of an on-site wastewater treatment facility. Moreover, water samples taken by Black Warrior Riverkeeper unveiled illicit substances in the discharge, including barium, strontium, and E. coli.
“Five Mile Creek is a picturesque spring-fed waterway that could be a regular source of enjoyment for our local community, if not for the relentless pollution stemming from Bluestone Coke,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
Jilisa Milton, Co-Director of GASP, emphasized the importance of holding Bluestone Coke’s owners accountable, stating, “We must ensure that the health and safety of Birmingham families take precedence over profit-driven interests.”
Sarah Stokes, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, added, “After affording Bluestone Coke a 60-day grace period to rectify their illegal actions, legal action has become an essential next step, given their ongoing disregard for preventing polluted water from escaping their premises.”
It is worth noting that Bluestone Coke is under the ownership of the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a current candidate for U.S. Senate. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Justice coal conglomerate for defaulting on over $5 million in civil penalties imposed by the federal government.
In another instance, the Jefferson County Department of Health cited Bluestone for violating its air permit due to hazardous emissions emanating from the plant’s coke ovens. In December 2022, GASP, SELC, Bluestone, and the Jefferson County Department of Health reached a consent decree, requiring Bluestone to pay a substantial $925,000 penalty—the largest in the department’s 105-year history.
For years, communities residing in predominantly Black neighborhoods near the plant, such as Harriman Park, Fairmont, and Collegeville, have endured high levels of visible air pollution and noxious odors. Bluestone Coke is located within Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund site, where the Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken soil remediation for more than 650 residential properties due to hazardous industrial pollution levels.
To access the full lawsuit filed, please click here.
For a visual representation of Bluestone Coke’s Clean Water Act violations, refer to the map here.
For a high-resolution image depicting polluted water from Bluestone Coke entering Five Mile Creek, captured by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, click here.
About the Organizations:
- The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is a prominent defender of the environment, with a strong presence in the South. Committed to safeguarding the region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people, SELC tackles formidable environmental challenges through litigation, advocacy, and community engagement. As a non-profit and non-partisan organization, SELC boasts a dedicated staff of 200, including more than 100 attorneys, and maintains headquarters in Charlottesville, Va., with additional offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. Learn more at southernenvironment.org.
- Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s mission is centered on the protection and restoration of the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. As a non-profit water advocacy organization, they promote clean water to enhance public health, recreation, and wildlife habitat throughout the Black Warrior River watershed. Discover more at BlackWarriorRiver.org.
- GASP is a non-profit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala., focused on advancing healthy air and environmental justice in the Greater-Birmingham area. Their mission revolves around education, advocacy, and collaboration to reduce air pollution exposure, educate the public about the health risks linked to poor air quality, and inspire community leaders to champion clean air and clean energy. Explore their work at GASPgroup.org.
For more information, please visit southernenvironment.org or contact Jilisa Milton at [email protected] or 205-701-4277