PENSACOLA, Fla. -- 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.

    At least one proposal for cleaning up the contaminated soil in the area would bring it to the hazardous waste dump in Alabama's Sumter County.

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

    EPA officials had resisted that plea until Thursday, insisting 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," Mr. Fite said. "It does not represent an emergency situation, but that doesn't mean we're not going to relocate them."

    Joel Hirschhorn, a Maryland environmental consultant hired by Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, contends EPA is downplaying the danger. He said his tests show some toxins up to 280 times the safe level.

    "It may be the most contaminated residential neighborhood in the country," Mr. Hirschhorn said. "I can't even imagine a place that contaminated."

    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 a hazardous waste dump in Emelle, Ala.

    Hagan Thompson, a spokesman for EPA in Atlanta, did not know Friday how much Soil might be brought into Alabama according to the third plan. He did indicate that EPA is not close to making a choice among the plans.

    "They've still got to run these things by the people in the area. When that might happen, I'm not real sure," Mr. Thompson said.

    Documents provided by Mr. Thompson indicate investigators are gathering data on the three plans before they make a decision.

    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, about a quarter-mile apart. They now are considered a single project.

    The EPA already has excavated 255,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil at the wood-treating site, leaving it in a plastic-shrouded, 40-foot mound covering 12 acres to prevent it from poisoning the ground water until a permanent solution is found. That prompted residents to call it Mount Dioxin.

Copyright 1995 The Advertiser Company
The Montgomery Advertiser
December 16, 1995, Saturday
SECTION: Government; Pg. 3F
LOAD-DATE: December 18, 1995