Federal environmental officials changed their minds on Thursday and agreed to move all 358 families living around a toxic waste site the residents have dubbed "Mount Dioxin."
The decision came after five years of prodding by residents of the predominantly black neighborhoods surrounding an abandoned wood-treating plant in the heart of Pensacola. They had accused the Environmental Protection Agency of "environmental racism," which officials denied.
"Everybody out here is suffering," said Anna Smith, who had vowed to stay unless everyone was moved even though she had been included in a partial relocation plan issued in May. "We are together."
EPA staffers said it was coincidence that the decision was announced two days after an advertisement appeared in Florida editions of USA Today. The ad appealed to President Clinton to order the relocation because "neighborhood children are sick and getting sicker."
"Our priority is to protect the health and welfare of the families and respect the unique needs of this community," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "This community relocation allows us to do just that."
At a minimum of $ 18 million, permanently relocating the families would be cheaper than temporarily moving them, then cleaning the site, said Richard Green, acting waste management director for EPA's Atlanta region.
The relocation, to be supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers, is expected to take place in about a year, Green said.
The agency, however, has yet to decide what to do with a 60-foot-high mound of dirt residents nicknamed Mount Dioxin. The dirt, which covers an area about the size of four football fields, was dug up on the Escambia Wood Treating plant in 1993 to stop it from contaminating ground water.
The mound and neighbors' yards are laced with poisons.
Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, a community group, says the contamination as caused cancer, skin rashes, respiratory problems, other illnesses and even deaths, but government studies haven't confirmed the claims.
In May, the EPA proposed moving 66 households most directly affected by the site, and then added 35 more homes to the plan in August.
left out 257 households, including a large apartment complex. The citizens,
group, supported by U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Pensacola, appealed to
EPA to move everyone.