News Feature | October 10, 2016

Alleged Formaldehyde Pollution Lands Utility In Major Lawsuit

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Alabama is suing a water utility in the state for alleged pollution violations, including discharging water with high levels of formaldehyde.

Oxford Water Works & Sewer Board is facing a lawsuit from the Alabama Attorney General’s office and the state Department of Environmental Management, according to The Anniston Star. The utility operates three plants in Oxford, AL.

“In the 13-page suit filed in Talladega County’s Circuit Court [on September 30], the attorney general’s office and the department say that Oxford Water Works repeatedly violated the permit granted it for wastewater treatment and discharge, and routinely failed to notify both the department and local health officials about those violations,” the report said.

The allegations, per the report:

  • Discharge from the board’s Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant 126 times between 2011 and 2015 contained too much bacteria or other pollutants, such as ammonia.
  • The water board’s employees routinely failed to monitor levels of those pollutants in the discharged water three times per week as required, the suit says, missing tests 35 times in three years.
  • Treated water is piped into Choccolocco Creek, and between April 2012 and December 2014, it changed the water’s color — to brown at one point, then black, and later, red. The department permits some discoloration from discharge, but the suit notes that Oxford’s exceeded the limit.
  • The water board also failed to report adverse effects on its wastewater treatment operation caused by water from Kronospan, the wood products producer in western Oxford that in June announced a $362 million expansion. Between April 2012 and October 2015, staff at the treatment plant told state inspectors that wastewater from the company contained high levels of formaldehyde. At one point, the water had to be diverted into a separate basin and then slowly reintroduced to the treatment process, the suit reads.

The water utility said it is evaluating the allegations in the suit, according to an additional report by The Anniston Star. Coosa Riverkeeper, which has sought to join the lawsuit, made pollution allegations against the utility in August, according to The Huntsville Times.

The utility noted that the conservation group’s allegations relate to issues “that have already been corrected or are otherwise not justified,” according to The Anniston Star.

The news report stated:

The board is “not yet currently prepared to comment in detail” on the allegations, the statement reads, before noting that the “vast majority ... have been resolved.” Any remaining issues “are being diligently addressed,” and the board is confident that none “pose a threat to human health or the environment.”

General manager Wayne Livingston told the newspaper: “Everything is not like it appears — we’re not bad. A lot of this stuff, it’ll come out to wash.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Oxford, Alabama," Michael Cooper © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: