The deadline to comment on the Proposed Rule No. 61 is two weeks away. The proposal would add north Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund Site to the National Priorities List, an Environmental Protection Agency designation that would allow the federal government to fund the ongoing cleanup of the contaminated area.
GASP has been working diligently to procure comments on the proposal in light of the state’s obstinate opposition to the listing. In October, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange both sent scathing letters to EPA decrying the process and the potential listing as potentially harmful to economic development.
Those sentiments were echoed by the entire Alabama congressional delegation except for Rep. Terri Sewell, the one congressperson who actually represents the entire area in question. In a letter dated October 17, 2014 to EPA Region 4 Administrator Heather McTeer Toney, Representatives Robert Aderholt, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby, Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers and former-Rep. Spencer Bachus wrote:
“While we appreciate EPA’s efforts to protect Alabamians from the effects of hazardous substances in the environment, we are concerned that EPA’s proposed listing is unsupported by reliable evidence and that it may undermine economic development in the area.”
Unfortunately for LeFleur, Strange, and Alabama GOP congressional delegation, those claims do not hold water. Researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh universities found listing a site on the NPL may actually increase housing prices. Such a listing signals that a site is headed towards remediation. The researchers also found that once all cleanup remedies are in place, nearby properties also increase in value.
Let’s take the current situation into account: According to real estate website Trulia, the median home listing price in Birmingham is $228,939. Meanwhile, the median listing price in Collegeville, the heart of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, is less than $18,000. There is literally nowhere to go but up. The Duke-Pittsburgh research suggests that’s exactly where the area will be headed … once the NPL designation puts the area on a path towards remediation.
In addition, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a basic health assessment that concluded that “past and current exposures to contaminants and particulate matter in the communities adjacent to Walter Coke resulted in both short and long-term harmful effects in sensitive* individuals.” (This includes elderly individuals, children, pregnant women, and people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and immune disorders.)
So not only are these economic development claims false, but the evidence also says that residents’ health has been and continues to be in jeopardy. Exposure to the contamination and ongoing pollution will keep these northern Birmingham neighborhoods unfairly economically depressed and disproportionately unhealthy.
GASP drafted a resolution in support of the proposed NPL listing. The Norwood Neighborhood Association passed the resolution unanimously, which will be submitted to the EPA as a supporting document. We encourage all entities — especially community organizations and neighborhood associations — to pass such a resolution in support of this critical measure. We are happy to provide a copy of our resolution and/or advise you on how you can support the NPL process in the final two weeks of the comment period.
For information on how to submit formal comments, click here.
Michael joined GASP in 2013 as communications specialist. He has lived in Birmingham since 2008, and is an active member of the Birmingham community. He’s a passionate advocate for health equity, civil rights and equality. He is currently serving as executive director. Email Michael