Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

For Immediate Release

Contact
Emily Driscoll, Southern Environmental Law Center, [email protected], 678-686-8482
Michael Hansen, Gasp, [email protected], 205-746-4666

Alabama Groups File Motion to Intervene in ABC Coke Consent Decree

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.  (January 29, 2020) — Conservation groups have filed a motion to intervene in ongoing efforts to approve a proposed settlement to address ABC Coke’s illegal emissions of benzene and the impacts on communities around northeast Birmingham and Tarrant, Ala., charging that the involved parties have failed to create a consent decree strong enough to ensure that the discharges are halted.

On behalf of Gasp, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the motion and proposed complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama late yesterday in response to the lax terms set out by the consent decree agreed to by the Jefferson County Board of Health (JCBH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Drummond Company. The members of the JCBH are tasked with governing the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH), which is responsible for regulating ABC Coke and its ongoing violations of benzene pollution, a known carcinogen.

Joining concerns expressed by local community members and elected officials, the groups claim the settlement, as written, lacks essential safeguards to ensure that the violations have stopped and hinders the public’s ability to identify and enforce future violations.

In the proposed consent decree, JCDH has agreed to post Drummond’s semiannual reports to its website verifying Drummond’s progress. The groups contend that Drummond’s self-reporting is not adequate and are urging the agencies to require an independent audit to assess what’s been done to reach compliance.

“With ABC Coke’s lengthy history of violations and a pattern of practice of hiding them, we continue to have significant concerns about the lack of transparency,” said SELC Senior Attorney, Sarah Stokes. “We must hold Drummond, EPA, and the Jefferson County Department of Health accountable to a plan that results in a protective, permanent solution to this legacy of pollution—anything short of that is unacceptable.”

Echoing comments submitted by Gasp and SELC last summer, the motion asks that Gasp be a party to the consent decree in order to be able to call for an increase in the penalty amount for violations, an independent audit of benzene levels, additional public reporting requirements, and for the JCDH to establish a trust fund for area residents which a third party with community-ties would administer.

“The families and workers who have been breathing ABC Coke’s toxic and illegal pollution for close to a decade deserve better,” said Gasp Executive Director, Michael Hansen. “Drummond should get more than a slap on the wrist. It’s past time for the Health Department to work with impacted communities to ensure tangible steps are being taken to put their health and wellbeing ahead of Drummond’s bottom line.”

Under the proposed consent decree filed in February 2019, Drummond agreed to pay $775,000 in penalties, with $387,500 going to JCBH and to EPA respectively. The consent decree also requires Drummond to take steps to stop the unlawful emissions, more than eight years after inspectors discovered that the plant was emitting excess amounts of benzene.

The JCDH recently renewed ABC Coke’s Title V permit despite numerous objections from local communities and elected officials, and without addressing the benzene violations that are the subject of the consent decree. On behalf of GASP, SELC petitioned EPA to object to the permit in June 2019. EPA has not yet made a decision whether or not to object to the permit.

For more information, contact Emily Driscoll at the Southern Environmental Law Center ([email protected], 678-686-8482) or Michael Hansen at Gasp ([email protected], 205-701-4270).

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About Gasp
Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the greater-Birmingham area through education, advocacy and collaboration. We strive to reduce exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

About Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. southernenvironment.org

More Strong Evidence Linking Air Pollution to Dementia

More Strong Evidence Linking Air Pollution to Dementia

More Strong Evidence Linking Air Pollution to Dementia

Often, when I read scary articles about air pollution and the frightening effects it has on your and my health, I experience a lot of anxiety…and then proceed to do nothing. I was curious about why this happens and why I (a person who is involved in environmental causes) go to a place of inner resistance. Aka, a place of “ignore, ignore, ignore.”

As I reflected on my reaction, I found that it’s because I often feel so powerless in the situation. The system we live in is currently set up in a way that produces air pollution, and I’m just the product of that system. Can I really help that? And the system isn’t improving quickly either. In fact, it’s doing the opposite with Trump’s administration rolling back environmental protection. I can feel so helpless. Will reading another scary article change this or will it just deepen my feelings of powerlessness?

As I read the recent article about how leading scientists are getting more comfortable with stating that air pollution causes dementia, instead of just suggesting that it might, I had the paralyzing reaction. But at least this time I understood why I was having it and I could do something about it. I got myself unstuck by thinking about the reasons why I fight for clean air. And this empowered me to continue to strive to live a life, to vote, to volunteer, to support the movement for clean air.

The first reason why I support clean air is to ensure and improve the quality of human life.

If you haven’t already seen the documentary Alive Inside, you should watch it. Now. It will change you. Dementia is a horrifying disease that strips you of your personhood. Seeing the patients regain their identities through music, even if just for a few minutes, will touch you. And it will remind you how quickly and easily this disease makes you lose everything that makes you, you. Knowing that air pollution is linked to this makes me want to stand up and keep fighting for clean air. Supporting environmental protection laws works. For example, it was reported that “enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard likely resulted in 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014.” [1]

The second reason why I support clean air is to protect our ecosystem and all the inhabitants.

Just like humans, our ecosystem takes a hit from air pollution. Since our health is affected by poor air, then the health of our water, plants, pets, animals, reptiles, fish, insects – you name it! – is also affected. How can it not be. It wouldn’t make any logical sense. But if seeing the effects of dementia in humans somehow doesn’t move you, or you don’t feel connected to the health of the ecosystem that supports our lives, there is another reason to support clean air.

The third reason why I support clean air is to stop losing money.

You might be wondering what I mean by this. It’s simple. When humans age in a healthy way, we don’t spend as much money. Remember how it was likely that there were 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014 because of enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard? Well, that is equivalent to $163 billion dollars saved [1]. If we don’t have clean air, we are losing billions of dollars. So besides the fact that air pollution costs us our personhood and the health of our ecosystem, poor air also costs us a whole lot of money.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by a scary article on air pollution, think about the reasons why you support clean air. And let that empower you to keep fighting for this beautiful cause.

Till next time.

Wishing you joy, safety and ease,
Anna

References: [1] https://www.wired.com/story/air-pollution-dementia/

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Every year Gasp comments on the Ambient Air Monitoring Plans put out by ADEM and JCDH. These plans contain any changes that either ADEM or JCDH plan to make to their ambient air monitoring network in that year. The plans are subject to public comment and EPA must approve the Plans.

Where ambient air monitors are placed and for what pollutant they monitor is crucial to the regulators’ and public’s ability to understand their air quality. For example, when Birmingham has “ozone days,” this information is being collected from the various ozone monitors throughout JCDH’s ambient air monitoring network. Gasp has been commenting on these plans the past several years not only because of the crucial role ambient air monitors play in informing us about air quality, but also because a more robust, intentionally strategic ambient air monitoring network is a critical component of establishing everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.

According to a recent article, the gains the U.S. has made in improving air quality have decreased over the past 2 years. “There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.” The American Lung Association ranked Birmingham 14th worst city for year round small particle (PM2.5) pollution.

This year, Gasp is asking for more monitoring. Specifically, for monitors to address the Acipco-Finley neighborhood’s concerns about emissions from scrap metal recycling facilities in their neighborhood and for a dedicated fenceline SO2 monitor for ABC Coke. These are very specific requests that could not only give a clearer picture of air quality in these communities, but such information gives residents the power to make their communities and air healthier.

Information is power. A robust ambient air monitoring network, with monitors placed in the right places (short version: the “right places” are in hot spots of pollution, not far away from them), gives people critical information about the quality of the air they breathe. This is why weighing in on JCDH’s Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019 is a crucial part of advancing healthy air and environmental justice.

The Consequences of My Consumerism

The Consequences of My Consumerism

The Consequences of My Consumerism

One of the hard parts for me about our consumerism driven world is that it is often so easy for me, a privileged middle class white female, to not feel the consequence of my own actions.

We’ve known for a long time that minorities, specifically Black and Hispanic Americans, tend to live in neighborboods with more air pollution. But it turns out, that they aren’t the ones who are creating most of that air pollution, it’s more likely that people like me are the ones who are creating it!

A study that lasted over six-years has found that there is a racial gap between those who causes air pollution and who breathes it:

“While we tend to think of factories or power plants as the source of pollution, those polluters wouldn’t exist without consumer demand for their products.

The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.” [1]

So even if I am not personally feeling the consequences of me buying and throwing away a single use coffee cup, it is negatively impacting the physical health of another human. Knowing that my consumerism does have consequences, even if I personally can’t feel them immediately (though eventually, I personally believe air pollution will catch up with all of us), changes things for me.

Here are some changes that I’ve made to improve the way that I consume goods and services and you can too:

I carry with me and use a reusable water bottle. Sip by Swell, the pink one in the photo, is my favorite! It’s easy to drink out of, doesn’t leak and isn’t too big. And you can often find it on sale at Target for $12.49! Another thing is I ask for ceramic mugs when I’m at coffee shops.

I bring my own grocery bags instead of using the plastic ones. A reusable bag is a great thing to buy when you are travelling as a souvenir for yourself. You’ll use it all the time and remember the great trips you’ve taken!

I try to repair before throwing something away and buying a new replacement. This vacuum works great but the end of the cord broke off so going to take it in for repair rather than throwing it away (and will probably save some $$ too).

A great resource that I have found is a YouTube channel called Exploring Alternatives. Check out their video on 12 Cheap & Easy Tips for Reducing Your Waste.

Per usual, let’s take a few deep breaths together.

In through the nose for four counts, 1…2…3…4…

Hold your breath for four counts, 1…2…3…4…

Exhale through the mouth for six counts, 1…2…3…4…5…6…

Repeat one more time.

Till next time.

Wishing you joy, safety and ease,

Anna

References:

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/11/702348935/study-finds-racial-gap-between-who-causes-air-pollution-and-who-breathes-it


Anna Vantsevich is a volunteer for Gasp and an advocate for healthy air and environmental protection. To learn more about how you can volunteer with us, visit gaspgroup.org/volunteer.