Preliminary tests have confirmed that two toxic waste sites on the federal government's Superfund cleanup list have contaminated a surrounding neighborhood with dioxin, arsenic, lead and other poisons.

    For years, many residents near the abandoned wood treating and chemical plants in this Florida Panhandle city have been asking the Environmental Protection Agency to relocate them.

    EPA officials had resisted that plea until Thursday, saying there was no evidence the sites, one of them known as "Mount Dioxin," were causing cancer, respiratory problems, skin rashes and other ailments as claimed by the neighbors.

    The agency now is considering moving 126 families because the testing shows toxins have contaminated the ground under and around at least 16 homes in excess of acceptable levels, and dozens more to lesser degrees.

    "We are beginning to see something come to light, and I'm thankful to God for it," said Margaret Williams, who once lived in the neighborhood.

    She is president of Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, which demanded the soil testing last year and met with EPA officials Thursday to discuss the findings.

    EPA project manager Mark Fite of Atlanta said contamination levels still do not pose an immediate threat to residents of the poor neighborhood.

    "We're within the risk range," Fite said. "It does not represent an emergency situation, but that doesn't mean we're not going to relocate them."

    The $ 10 million proposal for permanent relocation is one of three options the agency is considering. others are to temporarily move the families and clean up the contaminated soil or move them just long enough to remove the soil and dispose of it at an Alabama dump site.

    If residents are permanently relocated, the neighborhood could be turned into a landfill and industrial area.

    The federal government will pay 90 percent and the state 10 percent of the method chosen to clean the former Escambia Wood Treating Co. and Agrico Chemical Co. sites.

Copyright 1995 Sun-Sentinel Company
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale)
December 16, 1995, Saturday, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: The Associated Press
LOAD-DATE: December 21, 1995