A federal judge in Birmingham has ordered that McWane, Inc. pay a $5 million dollar fine and complete a $2.7 million dollar environmental project for violating the Clean Water Act and discharging polluted waste water in Avondale Creek from its north Birmingham plant. Three of its executives will serve probation and pay fines. Two of the three executives will serve time on home detention, and the third must complete community service. You will recall that executives of McWane were convicted of conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act and polluting Avondale Creek. Executives were also convicted of filing a false report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The company has asked the judge to let it complete a project in the community as part of its punishment, which includes the five-year probation. A $2.7 million dollar project to build a storm water treatment facility, athletic fields, walking and bike trails and more on the banks of Village Creek, southwest of the Birmingham International Airport, were part of the plan. The project will need approval by the city of Birmingham.
This appears to close a chapter on the criminal part of this problem in Birmingham. You will recall that the accusations in the criminal trial covered actions from 1998 to 2001. During the five-week trial last year, prosecution witnesses testified that McWane and its managers gave orders for water tainted during the pipe making process to be pumped into storm drains and into the creek. Environmental engineers testified during the trial that there were elevated levels of zinc, lead, oil, and grease in the water.
Even though this chapter has been concluded, there are apparently still hard feelings between McWane and the Department of Justice. The senior trial attorney in the Department of Justice Environmental Crime Section accused McWane of being a “corporate outlaw” and said that the company has a long history of environmental violations. Five U.S. subsidiaries of McWane were accused last year of environmental crimes. A Salt Lake City federal grand jury indicted McWane and its specific state’s pipe subsidiary in Utah on environmental violation charges. We will see whether McWane has, indeed, learned anything from this sad event.