As Alabama coal company that was belching more than 10 times the amount of benzene it had been reporting to state and federal regulators will pay $775,000 in penalties.
Birmingham, Alabama-based Drummond Company, one of Alabama’s largest coal operations, agreed to the settlement eight years after the Jefferson County Board of Health inspectors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that the company’s foundry coke facilities were releasing hazardous levels of benzene into the air.
According to the County and the EPA, both of which have gone to great lengths to shield Drummond from the community’s concerns, the company simply underestimated how much waste water polluted with benzene its facilities exposed to the air.
Benzene is a known carcinogen. In its liquid form, the chemical evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Benzene fumes and vapor are denser and heavier than oxygen, so airborne concentrations of the chemical can settle into low-lying areas. Birmingham is set in a mountainous and hilly terrain with several communities situated in valleys and foothills where benzene pollution potentially can accumulate.
Long-term exposure to benzene, even in very small amounts, can adversely affect the human body in a number of ways. Once in the bloodstream, benzene can trigger chromosome changes in bone marrow cells, impairing the body’s ability to produce healthy levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, and blood platelets.
Over time, benzene exposure and the damage it renders on blood cells can cause Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and several subtypes of the blood cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, benzene exposure has also been linked to childhood leukemia (particularly AML), acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and other blood-related cancers such as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
According to AL. com, Drummond officials have been convicted of bribing a state legislator and charged with bribing two state environmental officials in a scheme to oppose a Superfund cleanup site in the area.
Drummond is also seeking a new pollution permit from state and county officials, AL.com reports, but residents potentially affected by the company’s air pollution are being ignored.
According to AL.com:
Residents showed up at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management meeting last year, but were turned away without answers. They’ve seen Alabama’s top business groups side with polluters and dismiss their health concerns as paranoid or overblown. They’ve seen Alabama’s politicians show more regard for convicted bribers than the people who live in north Birmingham and Tarrant.