3 things you need to know about the EPA’s soil cleanup in N Birmingham

Meet Keisha Brown. She lives in the Harriman Park neighborhood that’s been declared part of the North Birmingham Superfund Site. Photo via Kimberly Chandler for NBC News.

Back in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency designated neighborhoods in the vicinity of 35th Avenue North as a Superfund Site. Areas that once thrived with industry turned out to have contaminated soil.

After a long delay, city leaders and the EPA have begun the cleanup process in North Birmingham. You can help spread the word.

1. First things first. What’s a Superfund site?

The Environmental Protection Agency can designate land contaminated by hazardous waste as a Superfund Site. As soon as a property gains this status, the EPA begins cleanups to prevent further risks to human health and the environment.

According to the EPA, the goals of a Superfund are to:

  • Protect human health and the environment by cleaning up contaminated sites
  • Make responsible parties pay for cleanup work
  • Involve communities in the Superfund process
  • Return Superfund sites to productive use

2. North Birmingham has a strong industrial legacy.

North Birmingham business district
North Birmingham is a unique example of an integrated residential, commercial and industrial community. Photo via Imagine Birmingham.

For over a century, the industrial plants in North Birmingham have operated and generated jobs. However, they also generated harmful emissions, water pollution and hazardous waste that directly affect the surrounding neighborhoods.

In 2009, the EPA discovered levels of toxic chemicals—including benzo(a)pyrene, a cancer-causing pollutant—that well exceeded legal limits in North Birmingham. Those harmful pollutants settled in the front lawns of local residents.

north birmingham epa site residents
The EPA’s made progress in cleanup efforts, but there’s still work to do. Photo via Bonnie Jo Mount for The Washington Post.

In 2013, the EPA began cleanup using their own funds.

To date, the 35th Avenue Superfund Site is still not on the EPA’s National Priorities List although it exceeds the requirements. Mayor Woodfin’s office has a petition residents can sign if they’d like to bring more attention to the issue.

3. There has been progress in the North Birmingham cleanup process.

mayor woodfin north birmingham
Mayor Woodfin calls for immediate action at the Superfund Site. Photo via Medium by Daniel Roth.

Mayor Woodfin met with the EPA about concerns with the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in North Birmingham. Contaminated soil affects over 1000 residents in the area.

The EPA continues to test sites that include churches, houses, old Carver High School and Hudson K-8 School. So far, they’ve completed testing on about 98% of the residential properties on the site

City officials have taken notice of the situation and formed an advocacy group. The group includes city officials, property owners in the site, community leaders, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, school officials, the Jefferson County Department of Health, Rep. Terri Sewell and Sen. Doug Jones.

“Every one of you all need to know that it doesn’t just affect the people that live in that neighborhood. It affects our entire city.” – Mayor Randall Woodfin

The EPA and city are working towards three main goals: remediation, relocation and redevelopment. It will take another two or three years for the cleanup to be complete but any progress is good progress.

How You Can Get Involved

GASP, the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, is a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing Birmingham’s long-standing air pollution issues. There are multiple ways you can get involved:

If you’re passionate about environmental justice or concerned about air pollution, it is important to remain informed and educated.

What are the local issues you’re passionate about? Let us know on social @BhamNow.

  • Chaise is a brunch-loving Content Producer and helps manage the Bham Now Instagram account.