Alabama carbon black plant to close for good New Year’s Eve

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, December 22, 2022

A carbon black manufacturing plant in Alabama is closing at the end of the month.

Continental Carbon Company in Phenix City will shutter its doors Dec. 31 after years of not making required upgrades and being hit with a multimillion-dollar jury verdict, WRBL-TV reported.

In a letter dated Dec. 8 and sent to plant manager Greg Johnston, Continental Carbon was notified by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that it must cease operations, the television station said.

The plant across the state state line from Columbus, Georgia, employs about 120 people and makes carbon black, a substance that is used to strengthen the rubber in car tires and is also in plastics, ink and coating applications.

The facility currently operates under a permit from ADEM that is void as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Under a 2015 agreement with ADEM, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department, Continental Carbon agreed to about $100 million in required emissions upgrades. The company got an extension on top of the 2015 agreement and had wanted an additional one this year, but that did not happen.

Ronald Gore, air quality chief at ADEM, told the television station that if the agency had known seven years ago that Continental Carbon would not implement the upgrades, the agency would have never signed the original agreement.

The company did not immediately respond Thursday to an email requesting comment about the impending shutdown.

In August, when he was asking residents to write letters of support for the plant to get the third EPA extension and remain open, Johnston said the facility’s 120 jobs generate about $6.5 million in economic impact.

The Columbus City Council passed a resolution this fall opposing additional extensions, WRBL-TV reported.

Shaun Culligan, director of economic development for Phenix City, said officials have known about the coming closure since the summer.

“We have received no notice from Continental Carbon to contradict that,” Culligan said.

Continental Carbon Inc., a subsidiary of China Synthetic Rubber Corp., was the subject of a 2007 federal jury verdict that awarded the city of Columbus, boat dealer Action Marine and a South Columbus resident $19.5 million in damages as a result of emissions from the plant.

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said this week that he hates to see jobs disappear, but residents near the plant will finally get relief after long having to put up with black, sooty residue on their homes.

“Nobody should have to live like that when you consider you are breathing that in, as well as seeing it end up on your patio,” Henderson said.