EPA’s plans for Mt. Dioxin: where do we stand now?

There are two main parts to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) current plans for the contaminated soil at the Escambia Treating Company Superfund Site in Pensacola:

1. Permanent relocation of residents living in the Clarinda Triangle area on the west side of Palafox opposite the site. This has been one of CATE’s goals for the last tenyears, and it has wide community support among citizens and officials. This adds about 45 families to the 358 moved away under the 1996 relocation decision.

2. Onsite burial of the 400,000 cubic yards of ETC’s contaminated wastes in plastic lined pits and covered with plastic and clay, some 13% of the wastes “solidified”(mixed with cement). CATE was joined by the City of Pensacola, Escambia County, and many organizations and citizens in asking EPA to reject this proposal in favor of a real cleanup or detoxification, but EPA has begun the construction of this new, underground Mt. Dioxin at 3910 North Palafox.

Instead of the real cleanup local citizens demanded, the federal Environmental Protection Agency in in the process of burying over 400,000 cubic yards of toxic woodtreating waste at the center of greater Pensacola.

The huge volume of soil contaminated by the Escambia Treating Company Superfund Site (“Mt. Dioxin”) will be “capped” and “contained” on the site, just a few feet above the aquifer that supplies drinking water to hundreds of thousands of county residents. Approximately 13% of the soil will be solidified with concrete.

CATE, like many community interests, has consistently advocated detoxification of the organic contaminants (dioxin, pentachlorophenol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and more), followed by solidification of 100% of the treated soil to stabilize the metals such as arsenic. According to Wilma Subra, CATE’s technical advisor, solidification cannot be expected to immobilize the organic contaminants, even in the 13% EPA plans to mix with concrete.

Given the ability of these chemicals to cause cancer, birth defects, and a wide range of other permanent damage to humans, a single-celled 60 mil plastic liner is a flimsy substitute for the cleanup Pensacola had a right to expect from the federal cleanup program.

CATE has also asked EPA to explain its decision to exclude several toxic pesticides and PCBs in the agency’s plans for soil “remediation”. These contaminants were identified during EPA’s own analysis of surface and subsurface soils on the defunct industrial site and the relocation areas.

EPA claims its “capping/containment” will remain intact for hundreds of years, but there is no data to support this assertion.

EPA’s design allows for an industrial park to be erected over the cap, with utility trenches and footings dug within 18 inches of the cap. As one local developer pointed out, it will be important to instruct builders of these facilities how to repair the cap, because construction damage is inevitable. Site workers and employees of nearby businesses could be exposed to dust and fumes from the toxic materials.

Another concern for CATE and others is the potential for water to seep into the cell; this is a potentially serious issue with the single-walled cell, since it could introduce even more contamination into the aquifer.

EPA says it will be responsible for any water that leaks into the cell during construction, but it is not clear whose job it would be to remove water that may accumulate in the cell after capping.

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