COAL AND WATER DON’T MIX:
Alabama’s waterways have been threatened on several fronts in the past year. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, two coal mines in the Birmingham metro area— Rosa Mine and the proposed Shepherd Bend mine—would pollute the Black Warrior River and, by extension, Birmingham’s drinking water. But the Magic City isn’t the only one whose water supply may be endangered.
Tuscaloosa’s drinking water may be threatened by a recent coal slurry spill on a tributary of Freeman Creek, which flows into the North River and eventually empties into Lake Tuscaloosa. According to an Alabama Surface Mining Commission (ASMC) estimate, anywhere from 120,000 to 600,000 gallons of coal slurry, a mixture of water, mud and chemicals used to mine for resources deep underground, was spilled in mid-July by Walter Energy, the company that owns the rights to the coal in the North River area.
Initial reports from Walter Energy, the ASMC and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) claimed that the slurry was merely a mix of 75 percent water and 25 percent crushed rock. Black Warrior Riverkeeper later criticized the statement, as it was made before any actual water samples were tested for chemicals or other substances. Subsequent testing by McGehee Engineering on the behalf of Walter Energy revealed that higher than normal amounts of suspended solids, arsenic and lead were in the river, according to a Riverkeeper news release.
Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke went to the spill site in order to take photographs and test samples. “Walter Energy was not prepared to prevent harm to the North River and its tributaries,” Brooke said. “Sadly, our regulatory agencies are downplaying the importance of water quality, aquatic life and recreation in the North River watershed. If this is how government reacts to a coal mining accident upstream of the drinking water supply for 200,000 Tuscaloosa-area residents, then we can unfortunately expect a similar response if an accident occurred upstream of the drinking water supply for 200,000 Birminghamarea residents.”
Brooke took a flight over Lake Tuscaloosa on July 26 to survey the extent of the spill. “It is clear that after last week’s rains, the coal slurry spill has finally made its way into the upper end of Lake Tuscaloosa,” he said. While the cleanup of the river is far from complete, Riverkeeper is hopeful that ADEM and the ASMC will take action in the future to prevent accidents like this from occurring. “This is not just a drinking water issue,” Brooke said. “Many people fish and swim in the North River and in Lake Tuscaloosa. The North River and its tributaries are also an important source of clean water for the lake into the future, and they provide valuable wildlife habitat.” AM
FREE AIR FAIR:
Alabama Partners for Clean Air (APCA), an initiative of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB), will host an Air Quality Expo, Saturday, Aug. 6, 9-11 a.m., at Railroad Park downtown. The free event will include free vehicle emissions testing, a display of alternative fuel vehicles, information about recycling and tips from CommuteSmart regarding better commuting habits. For information, go to alabamacleanair.org/community/events.
This is not the only opportunity this month for free emissions testing courtesy of the Partners. There are more than 20 other sessions scheduled in August at various locations in the metro area. For a schedule, go to alabamacleanair.org/calendar. JC
BUILD IT GREEN:
Green Building Focus of Birmingham will host another event in its Seminar Series at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery Aug. 12. The event will provide practical information for built-environment professionals regarding indoor environmental quality, mechanical systems, lighting, automation, monitoring and tracking. Speakers include Godfried Augenbroe, a professor in the high-performance building programs of the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech, and Gary Merrow, director of facilities engineering and sustainment for The Home Depot. For details and registration, visit www. greenbuildingfocus.com.
The annual Green Building Focus Conference and Expo, a regional sustainable building event, will be held at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham, Sept. 15-16. JC
Andy McWhorter is a Birmingham Weekly editorial assistant. Jesse Chambers is a contributing writer for Birmingham Weekly and B-Metro magazine. Send your comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org