A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency recently stated that more companies could be notified as being potentially responsible parties (PRPs) for the cleanup of the North Birmingham Superfund site.
Last month, the EPA gave five Birmingham companies that operate in North Birmingham –Walter Coke, U.S. Pipe, Alagasco, Drummond Coal and KMAC — a 14-day deadline to respond to a notification implicating them as PRPs for the contamination of residential properties in the communities of Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont.
During that time, however, the government shutdown furloughed the EPA’s staff and extended the deadline from the original 14 days. The first deadline has since passed, but not all of the companies have responded to the letter, according to EPA spokesperson James Pinkney.
“A few of the companies have responded, not all of them. But I cannot discuss what was said,” Pinkney said. “The EPA didn’t put out a press release about this saying that notifications were sent out. A few print reporters called us inquiring about the notifications but we didn’t announce it.
“What the next step is now is to gather the PRPs and hold a public meeting. This meeting is still in the planning stages so I can’t give you a date as to when it might be, but what I can say is that we are planning on that happening sometime in November or possibly December,” Pinkney said.
The EPA spokesman said that other companies – in addition to the original five – are also believed to be responsible for the residential contamination in North Birmingham, and the federal agency plans to contact them as well.
“It’s not just them. The search is still continuing. In fact, there will probably be more companies,” Pinkney said. “These were the main ones who have had property in that area and operations in that area. More companies will be notified at a later date.”
Only two of the companies, Walter Coke and KMAC, chose to respond for an earlier Weld story. For this story, only Walter Coke has responded to questions.
“During the government shutdown, the deadline for a response had passed and we hadn’t heard from the EPA, said Dennis Hall, communications director for Walter Coke. “But since then, they notified us that we would be given not only the days that the government was closed, but an additional day for each day of the shutdown. I guess they did that to give them more time to get back in the swing of things themselves.”
Hall said that other than the letter informing them of the extended deadline, his company has heard nothing else from the EPA. “I guess in this case, no news is good news,” Hall said.
When told that the EPA plans to implicate more companies in the Superfund cleanup, Hall said, “Well, they should. The EPA said that they would do reverse detective work and find past contaminants and go backwards from there and see who produces that. We don’t produce lead and a lot of those other things they found. So hopefully more research will show that they are barking up the wrong tree.”
Many of the homes affected by industrial contamination in North Birmingham have never been cleaned up, said Collegeville resident Delbra Taylor, whose house sits across the street from a large pile of industrial slag. On the other side of the slag pile lies Walter Coke. Her sprawling garden behind her home is full of flowers and vegetables.
“The EPA told us two years ago that the lead levels were too high. They haven’t done a thing about it,” Taylor said. “The EPA said they would when they get around to surveying everybody about it.” Joaquin McKelvey, whose yard overlooks big black piles of industrial slag, also said his home has not been cleaned up in the government effort.
As the EPA begins to name more companies as being potentially responsible for the contamination, Pinkney is confident that the next phase of the cleanup can begin.
“The thing is that the companies that have been named, and even the ones that haven’t been named yet, they know. They know they had property in that area and they know that they are responsible. It can’t be a big surprise to them.”