Pensacola Case Study

    The Pensacola case is a good environmental justice study because it presents us with a number of difficult questions. Are predominately minority communities treated as fairly as similarly-situated white communities? Is the EPA or some other government organization accountable to clean up toxic sites created by independent, private businesses? And if so, how far (and how much money) should the government (and thus the taxpayer) spend to correct the problem?
 

    The Pensacola case study involves how residents of predominately African-American neighborhoods in the Florida city have dealt with living near two lots containing abandoned factories and the dangerous chemicals they produced and used. At its factory, the Escambia Wood Treating Co. soaked utility poles in creosote and pentachlorophenol. The other company Agrico, manufactured various varieties of fertilizer. Bill Kaczor, Neighborhood Blames Years of Woe on "Mount Dioxin," Charleston Gazette, Mar. 11, 1996, at PlB. After the Escambia plant was abandoned, the EPA excavated the contaminated soil around the plant to keep the toxic chemicals from reaching the water supply. Id. The heavily-contaminated soil remained above ground at the site, covered only by a plastic sheet. The plastic covered, dioxin infested mound of dirt subsequently was dubbed "Mount Dioxin" by local residents and environmentalists. Id.

    While Mount Dioxin posed no immediate threat to the water supply, Pensacola residents believed that it and the ex-Agrico plant have caused other problems. Id. When the EPA tested the soil in yards near the two sites, they found high levels of a variety of toxic chemicals, including dioxin. Id. Residents in the area have witnessed a rise in many fatal diseases. For instance, Margaret Williams, a resident of a Pensacola living near the two sites, has lived through a number of horror stories. "Her parents and an uncle died of cancer. [She] had a baby who was stillborn and another who died of respiratory problems after three months.  Her daughter gave birth to a child with six toes on each foot." Residents Fight to Escape "Mt. Dioxin," Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA), Mar. 11, 1996, at A9. Williams's neighbors have accused the toxic site of causing a variety of ailments, including cancer and heart problems. Id. Still, the EPA believes there is no connection between the heavily contaminated yards and the illnesses from which Pensacola residents have complained. Bill Kaczor, Neighborhood Blames Years of Woe on "Mount Dioxin," Charleston Gazette, Mar. 11, 1996, at PlB. As a result of these problems, the citizens formed the organization "Citizens Against Toxic Exposure" to raise awareness of the situation and demand relief. Many believed that the government should pay for those living the two sites to be relocated.

    After residents asked repeatedly the government to move them (a less costly alternative to cleaning up the site), the EPA offered to relocate the 66 households most directly affected by the dioxin problem. Bill Kaczor, Mount Dioxin Neighbors Fume Over Partial Relocating Plan, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), May 8, 1996, at 21A. Some residents refused the offer, insisting that the government pay to move the other 300 households believed to be affected adversely by the contamination as well. Id. During the debate, residents argued that if their community was predominately white, each family would have been relocated years before. Booth Gunter, Pocket of Deadly Disease Surrounds Superfund Site, Tampa Trib., July 25, 1995, at 1.

    Finally the EPA capitulated, deciding to move all 358 affected by the dioxin. Julie Hauserman & David Olinger, EPA to Evacuate "Mount Dioxin," St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 4, 1996, at 1A. The move sparked a great deal of interest because total evacuations are so rare. Id. After the evacuation, the government planned to destroy the homes and begin to clean up the area, a process that will cost far more than the move itself. Id.

    In 1997, environmentalists released a report revealing the high toxicity of the wood preservatives that the Escambia plant manufactured, revealing the toxin's dreadful effects. Environmentalists Release "Poison Poles" Report and Launch Campaign; Cite Widespread Contamination and Poisoning from Use of Wood Preservatives on Utility Poles and Availability of Alternatives, PR Newswire, Feb. 4, 1997.

   Almost all the materials included in the Pensacola study are newspaper articles. It is necessary to read them all to get the complete story.