From Houston County wetlands to North Birmingham neighborhoods, Alabama’s budget battles lead to environmental problems

Holes are appearing in Alabama’s official safety net for environmental protection.

A consistent loser in recent battles for state funding, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is seeing delays in enforcing regulations.

It also is seeking to hand off to local governments the primary responsibility for emergency response to environmental accidents.

And its lack of matching funds helped dash hopes for federal clean-up of long-standing industrial contamination in several north Birmingham neighborhoods.

A recent sign of the problems came Feb. 10 with landowner James Hodges’s plea to ADEM’s oversight commission for more timely enforcement of regulations to prevent construction runoff from damaging his cypress wetlands in Houston County. Read more.

EPA Funds-Freeze Spotlights Alabama’s Precarious Environmental Budget

However temporary it was, the Trump administration’s freeze on federal grant awards at the Environmental Protection Agency alarmed Alabama environmentalists still reeling  from a recent gasoline pipeline leak and fatal explosion in Shelby County. The Alabama Rivers Alliance’s program director Mitch Reid said, “Federal money isn’t extra money for us, it’s absolutely fundamental to the maintenance of clean water in Alabama. Any way you look at it, this throws a wrench in the steady state operation of water protection in Alabama.”

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) relies on a suite of grants and contracts from the EPA to carry out its programs in water and air quality, solid and hazardous waste management, and others. The federal government’s contribution to ADEM is about $60 million, or nearly 40 percent of the department’s $154 million budget, for 2016. The Alabama legislature budgeted $280,000 from the general fund in 2016, down from $830,000 in 2015, according to Gov. Robert Bentley’s 2017 Executive Budget.

UPDATE: New Caution Issued on Gadsden Drinking Water. Contaminant Testing Continues for Coosa River Systems. Solutions Sought

Levels of dangerous perfluorocarbon (PFCs) in drinking water continue to bedevil the Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board.

Two recent samples from the Coosa River, where Gadsden gets its water, tested above the federally recommended long-term level for two specific PFCs, PFOA and PFOS. That prompted the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) yesterday to remind pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, formula-fed infants, and others sensitive to toxins to consider using alternate sources of drinking water.

Also, the Board has filed suit against more than 30 businesses and industries, many of them carpet mills, for damages from past and present release of toxic chemicals, including PFCs, into the Coosa River. The Coosa is Gadsden Water Board’s source of raw water for the drinking water it processes and distributes. In the filing, the Board says that its current treatment operation cannot remove the PFCs, and it would have to install a new system to do so.

ADPH’s State Environmental Toxicologist John Guarisco said the most recent samples of Coosa River Water used by Gadsden, taken by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), showed levels of 84 and 82 parts per trillion (ppt), above the 70 ppt recommended safe maximum level established in an EPA health advisory in May.