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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Mount Dioxin: The EPA Decision Comes In

Air Date: Week of

Following up on the segment in our April 19th week broadcast on the health problems in the area of Pensacola, Florida known as "Mount Dioxin," Steve Curwood explores some of the community's reactions to the Environmental Protection Agency's compromise offer to relocate 66 of the 426 families residing there.


CURWOOD: A few weeks ago, we reported on a neighborhood in Pensacola, Florida, located between two abandoned toxic waste sites. Members of the community, which is almost entirely African American, asked the US Environmental Protection Agency to move them into new housing in an unpolluted area. They waited years for an answer, and now they have one. The EPA has now offered to relocate residents of 1 of 4 adjacent neighborhoods, 66 families out of the 426 families who live near the Superfund site known collectively as Mount Dioxin. Community residents say this initial response doesn't go far enough. Frances Dunham is with Citizens Against Toxic Exposure in Pensacola.

DUNHAM: When we first heard of the proposed plan, it didn't include the entire community. We were shocked and outraged. It's easy to see that the contamination has spread to those other three neighborhoods. They're very close together, the sites are close together. To isolate one from the other is, we consider it just an absurdity.

CURWOOD: Ms. Dunham and others say pollution from 2 former factories is responsible for a high rate of cancer deaths in their neighborhoods, along with birth defects and other health problems. EPA officials say they took these health effects into account in deciding to move those families who live closest to the contamination. John Hankinson is the EPA regional director in charge of the Pensacola case.

HANKINSON: The area that we have made an interim decision to move had higher levels of contamination than other parts of the study area, particularly in part of the home that were most closely adjacent to the site. It seems that the people that we've identified in this first phase, the permanent relocation, was both the best alternative from a health perspective and from a cost effectiveness standpoint.

CURWOOD: Relocating the 66 families and cleaning up contaminated soil in the neighborhoods near Mount Dioxin is expected to cost almost $5 million. But that doesn't include dealing with the contamination at its sources: an abandoned wood treating factory and a nearby fertilizer plant. Cleanup of the Superfund sites themselves could cost as much as $60 million. Many communities around the country are closely watching what happens at Mount Dioxin. EPA action there could set a national precedent for government policies involving minority communities located near toxic areas. The final chapter in the Pensacola story hasn't been written yet by the EPA. There's a 60-day comment period ahead, and they've left the door open to changes. Diana Ateviano, a lawyer representing the citizens' group, expects the EPA will ultimately choose to move more residents.

ATEVIANO: We are very hopeful, especially given some of the conversations we've had with EPA officials, that they will reconsider this ill-advised idea to relocate only part of the community, and that they will instead re-propose a broader relocation.

CURWOOD: Pensacola attorney Diana Ateviano, who represents neighbors of what's become called Mount Dioxin.



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