Selah Vetter / News Editor
The Birmingham City Council recently passed a resolution to add the 35th Avenue EPA Superfund site to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List (NPL).
An Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site is funded by the government and taxpayers to help clean pollution in cities throughout the U.S. During these operations, the EPA prioritizes removing contaminated soil. According to a Birmingham City Council report, it is estimated to cost $40 million.
Recently, the Birmingham City Council said the cleanup operation at the 35th Avenue Superfund site is almost finished. They estimate the clean up should take two to three more years to complete. The Birmingham City Council said in a recent resolution this development will hopefully reduce the city’s environmental toxins and improve public health.
“The Council and the City of Birmingham finds that the addition of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site to the NPL will assist efforts to clean up hazardous contamination, improve public health and revitalize affected communities,” the resolution reads.
Corporate lobbying has been prevalent in the debate. In 2018, Balch & Bingham lawyer Joel Gilbert and Drummond Company’s Vice President David Roberson were found guilty of bribing Alabama legislator Oliver Robinson. As a result, Robinson lied about the severity of Birmingham’s contamination to attempt to stop the establishment of the Superfund site.
The EPA Superfund Site is supposed to help Birmingham neighborhoods, but many in these communities believe the benefits are not enough and have demanded more urgency in this matter. Charlie Mack Powell, president of People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination or PANIC, has been the champion on this issue in impacted neighborhoods.
“They need an advocate to start a crusade on this,” Powell said. “I said I will do it.”
While homes have been cleaned from contamination, the ERP Compliant Coke facility is still in use. According to Powell, the pollution will only continue as long as the power plant is still running.
“After you clean the soil and the plant is still running, what’s the purpose of cleaning the soil,” Powell said. “The air is still contaminated. The people are still breathing it.”
Not only does the pollution create a gray haze across neighborhoods, but it also causes health problems within the community.
“People die there from cancer or strokes. There has to be some sort of link,” Powell said.
Powell believes the city should make the neighborhood an industrial area. He believes the people should be relocated from the area.
“I wrote a letter to the governor,” Powell said. “We’re waiting to hear the feedback. I think we can find the money.”
While the cleanup operation is finishing up, many in this community believe that it will never be enough. As long as the power plant continues running, the neighborhood will remain polluted.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that these continuous health concerns are why the 35th Avenue Superfund Site needs to be on the EPA’s priority list.
“These injustices continue until the North Birmingham 35th Avenue Superfund Site is placed on the National Priorities List and all necessary resources are provided to the people of the community,” Woodfin said in the letter.