The regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told North Birmingham residents at a community meeting Monday night that help is on the way to clean up the toxic air and soil in their neighborhoods.
Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, the highest-ranking federal environmental official in the Southeast, and she visited Birmingham to discuss what is being done to remedy the industrial contamination in Collegeville, Fairmont and Harriman Park.
“Everyone in the region knows that that’s a top priority for me,” Fleming said.
The event was attended by about 100 area residents hungry for action after the federal government said late last year it would help clean up certain areas of North Birmingham. They voiced their concerns at the Oak Street meeting.
One of the main issues discussed last night was the EPA’s recent invocation of the federal Superfund law — know officially as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
With the Superfund, the EPA has the power to make polluting companies clean up the contaminated sites they are responsible for.
The federal agency initiated an agreement under the Superfund with Walter Coke in 2011. At the Walter Coke plant, coal is cooked into coke, a process that releases heavy toxins, contaminating North Birmingham’s air and soil.
Meeting attendees complained about the lack of action regarding the agreement, and one promised to sue Walter Coke if it did not meet their part of the agreement.
Former Federal Judge U.W. Clemon, who also spoke last night, appeased residents, saying that “those that messed it up will be responsible for cleaning up.”
Another topic discussed last night was Parker’s recent proposal for a North Birmingham clinic to serve the health needs of the community, given the presumably widespread effects of toxic contamination there.
Her initiative was turned down by the City Council last week because they said it needs further discussion.
Some at the meeting expressed frustration with the health care available to those in affected areas. “All of our symptoms, all of the respiratory symptoms we have, they need to be treated. I am tired of going to the clinics and not getting treatment,” said one resident present at the meeting.
Clemon has worked with Parker on the clinic proposal for the City Council. He explained that the facility would run with Cooper Green Hospital health staff and be funded partially by industry.
One resident who was present said she would work as a volunteer at the clinic if that was necessary. “We’re going to built this clinic and I am going to work for it,” she said.
With the support of most of those in attendance, Parker and Clemon said they will insist that the City Council answer the needs of the community.