TARRANT, Ala. (WIAT) — The Southern Environmental Law Center and the health advocacy group GASP have reached a new settlement with ABC Coke after concerns and complaints about the companies illegal emissions of benzene, which reportedly impacted neighborhoods in Tarrant and northeast Birmingham.
People in Tarrant tell CBS 42 ABC Coke’s emission issue has been a problem for some time. Attorneys for SELC say the company hasn’t followed proper regulations in decades, which is why getting the company to follow more environmental guidelines is a big win.
“This. This says ‘Hey, what you did was not ok. What you did can’t happen again,'” said Tarrant resident Gabriel Mendez-Frances.
Mendez-Frances has been outspoken about the plant and its environmental issues for some time. He says some of his friends and family have respiratory issues like asthma due to the harmful impact of the factory.
“I just think that it’s too much of a coincidence that folks in this area have respiratory issues after moving into this neighborhood,” Mendez-Frances said.
Both SELC and GASP say the original settlement between ABC Coke, Jefferson County Board of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency wasn’t enough penalty for the company to learn a lesson and protect the area.
“We step in because we didn’t feel the settlement sufficient between the EPA and the ABC Coke Plant,” SELC attorney Sarah Stokes said.
Based on the new settlement, ABC Coke will still pay $775,000 to the EPA and invest the rest into a community foundation to help improve public health for Tarrant and northeast Birmingham. ABC Coke will also have to follow a Leak Detection and Repair Program (LDRP) for the rest of the plant’s existence in order to address future leaks and other issues. The Jefferson County Health Department will also make inspections of ABC Coke and other plants public record.
“That way the public can know when a plant is violating its permit when there’s been an inspection where they found problems at a plant. Not just ABC Coke, but at every permitted industrial source,” Stokes said.
Mendez-Francis believes this form of transparency will be huge for the city going forward.
“I think this is a very a good step in that direction,” Mendez-Frances said.
The Jefferson County Health Department’s Public Relations Coordinator Sunasia Mims provided this statement on the recent settlement:
“The Jefferson County Department of Health appreciates Gasp’s interest and comments on the Consent Decree. Many of the Consent Decree’s core requirements were negotiated years ago, and the Department is pleased that Gasp has joined the Department’s request (and the United States’ request) that the Court enter the Consent Decree. It has always been the Department’s intent to use its portion of the civil penalty for the purpose of benefiting the public health of the residents near the ABC Coke plant. The Department is proud to have accomplished its goal to provide community input on the use of the civil penalty.
The Department has made significant efforts to address benzene and other emissions by using an infrared camera and an enhanced leak detection and repair program. These efforts have been ongoing for some time now, and they will continue going forward. The Department also has been developing online databases to enhance communications to communities and this agreement will be a small part of that larger commitment to continue to provide valuable information to the public.”
CBS 42 is still waiting to hear from ABC Coke on the settlement.