Epa Superfund Sites Essay, Research Paper
28 March 1995
The Escambia Treating Company (ETC) Superfund Site has been mistreated and neglected for years; a combination of bureaucracy in Washington and government intervention in Pensacola have made the situation at the ETC site worse than it has ever been. Therefore, the surrounding neighborhoods are completely uninhabitable. Yet the residents of these neighborhoods still live in their houses, some of which are less than fifteen feet from the site itself.
The Escambia Treating Company treated wood used for utility poles and foundation pilings. ETC operated from 1943 to 1992. The site is located on the east side of Palafox Street, just north of the Palafox, Fairfield intersection (Dunham Toxics 1). The company however, disolved in 1993, after failuing to comply with the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Dunham Industrial 1). The Escambia Treating company was established before there was concern about what effects its activities might have in the future, and therefore, little care was taken to protect the environment as well as the people working there (Dunham Industrial1).
Frank Picket, an ex-employee of ETC worked there for 19 years, he is also a resident of Rosewood Terrace. He tells stories of the day to day operations and occurrences at ETC. According to Mr. Picket the only safety
gear the employees were issued were hard hats and steel toed boots. They were not provided with any type of gas masks to protect them from the toxic fumes. He also tells of rabbits and dogs drinking out of ponds on the ETC site that would die of poisoning or their hair would fall out when they came in contact with the toxic water. The workers at ETC suffered from skin rashes, and several have died from cancers, TB, and heart problems. Mr. Picket estimates that 15 to 20 people he knew who worked at ETC died from these type of problems. He even remembers one of the owners suffering from cancer. Perhaps one of the most disturbing accounts Mr. Picket describes was the method in which ETC disposed of the chemicals in the on site holding pond. The holding pond was a large ditch that was lined with cement and held the chemicals that were used to treat the wood. However, for the owners of ETC disposing of these chemicals was much easier than one might imagine, they simply broke a whole in the cement and let the chemicals drain out into the surrounding soil (Interview).
The two main ingredients used to treat these poles were creosote and pentachlorophenol or PCP. Among the other chemicals used were dioxin, which is a bleaching agent and a form of chlorine; PCB s, which are also found in paper mills; and asbestos, which is a known carcinogen; as well as numerous others (Dunham Industrial 1).
After several years the EPA finally shut Escambia Treating Co. down when the owners were unable to comply with environmental regulations
(Dunham Cleanup 1). With the implementation of new regulations by the EPA, as well as all around stricter pro-environment laws taking effect, many industrial companies were expected to clean up their messes at their own expense (GAIN Can 2). I believe that the original owners of Escambia Treating Co. (Charles Soules and family) saw these changes coming, and like smart businessmen wanted to get out as soon as possible. They did so by turning the company into a stock corporation, and eventually sold all of the stock to their employees . Therefore, when the EPA came around and tried to get ETC to clean up their act, the stockholders were unable to do so and as a result the company went bankrupt. This meant that the Soules family got away without cleaning up their mess, the stockholders lost their investments, and the site remained contaminated with no hope of funding for a cleanup.
However, this all changed in 1980 when Congress passed “The Comprehensive Environmental Response, compensation, and Liability Act,” also known as Superfund. The Act is financed by industry tax (GAIN Can 2). Superfund was originally enacted by Congress two years after the infamous “Love Canal” incident in New York where the Hooker Chemical Co. was dumping chemical waste in to the abandoned canal and toxins were found seeping into the basements of near by residences (GAIN Partisan 2). The Act outlines how toxic waste sites should be cleaned up and applies only to the most dangerous toxic waste sites in the US (GAIN Can 2).
Nine years later, Superfund came to Pensacola and began “emergency cleanup procedures.” One wonders why it took so long for the EPA to respond to this emergency. The Superfund Accelerated Cleanup Model also known appropriately as SCAM is the EPA s plan of action for the Escambia Treating site. This model however, was designed for ” low-volume” or “low-toxicity” sites (Dunham Cleanup 2). It was certainly not designed for sites the magnitude of Escambia Treating Co. SCAM was designed to be a quick and inexpensively procedure for cleaning up toxic waste sites. Some people speculate that the use of the SCAM model in Pensacola at the ETC site was a response to criticism that Superfund was wasting too much time and money and was not making any real progress (Dunham Cleanup 2).
Many of the nearby residents were displeased with the actions that the EPA took. When the residents first heard that the EPA was going to clean up the site, they were very optimistic. However, when they saw exactly what the EPA was doing, they became very concerned. The EPA had plans not only to clean up the old equipment, leaking drums of creosote, and dilapidated buildings, as the residents had hoped, but they also intended to clean up all of the contaminated soil (Dunham Cleanup 1). To the casual observer this probably sounds like a good plan, but to the residents of Rosewood Terrace, Oak Park, Goulding, and Escambia Arms, it was horrifying. It was horrifying because the EPA gave them no warning that the excavation would stir up contaminated dust,
and no warning that their health was in danger. Furthermore, the EPA refused the help of several ex-employees of Escambia Treating Co. in locating major problem areas on and near the site (Dunham Cleanup 1).
For many years residents of Oakpark and surrounding areas have been suffering with illnesses and cancers; yet no connection was made to the nearby site, because no one had informed them of the danger they were in. Even though both state and federal agencies had been studying soil and groundwater contamination since the 1970 s. However, after the EPA began excavation the residence began to experience even more problems. The toxic dust that was stirred up caused respiratory problems, persistent skin rashes, and burning eye irritation. It is also suspected that permanent damage may have been inflicted, the results of which won t show up for years. In 1992, as a result of their suffering, the residents of the surrounding areas, as well as concerned members of the community began meeting in order to put a stop to the excavation. In their quest to save their neighborhood and their lives, they discovered that the EPA had no viable plan of action. The level of contamination of the site was not determined before the project was undertaken, nor was there an emergency plan of action coordinated with local civil defense officials. In addition, there were on precautions taken to protect the near by residents.
Yet when this group confronted the EPA with this information, the EPA instead that it was nothing more than an “odor problem” (Dunham Cleanup 1).
The EPA took over a year to excavate the 260,000 tons of contaminated soil that now sits covered with tarps next to mammoth pits (Dunham Cleanup 1). The residents were thankful when the EPA ran out of money and were forced to stop digging, but they were not satisfied.
This group of residents eventually became known as Citizens Against Toxic Exposure (CATE), and are now on a campaign to be relocated. They also want the ETC site to be expanded so that it will include all of the contaminated areas, including the residential areas surrounding the site. In addition to this, CATE would like to see other protective measures taken; so that on more contamination may occur elsewhere. However, they have been met with great opposition from the government. The EPA has even tried to undermine CATES s credibility by providing “false reassurance” to both physicians and officials in the community. Furthermore, the EPA has made it nearly impossible for CATE, or anyone for that matter to obtain any information concerning the site or the EPA s plan of action (Dunham Cleanup 2).
However, CATE discovered the results of testing done at the ETC site and they were astounding. Creosote and PCP were found to be at levels of 5,000 parts per million (ppm). Dioxin, which is described to as the “most potent” carcinogen ever studied by the EPA was found at 300 parts per billion (ppb), that s 300 times the so called “acceptable level” (Dunham 1). When in the body, dioxin functions as an artificial hormone which disturbs the endocrine system.
This disturbance may increase the potency of natural hormones while diminishing others. It also suppresses the immune system. Because dioxin acts as a hormone, it can change sexual characteristics, metabolism, and reproductive functions. Furthermore, there has been no acceptable level determined, even in minute quantities dioxin is extremely dangerous (Dunham Industrial 1).
In addition, CATE has also discovered that the EPA would like to incinerate the toxic sludge and soil. This course of action is quite surprising considering that the EPA seldom if never allows private industry to use incineration as a means of disposing of waste, due to its negative impact on the environment. Even more surprising is that incineration is known to produce dioxins, a result that completely contradicts what the EPA s supposed purpose is at ETC; that is to clean up hazardous chemicals, not to produce more. Use of incinerators at the ETC site would not only produce more dioxin, but it would also cause toxins that are currently in the soil to become airborne, allowing these contaminants to spread throughout Pensacola with greater ease and with wider coverage than currently possible. It would also make cleanup impossible (Dunham Cleanup 1).
Such factors cause me to believe that the EPA has chosen this course of action because they are severely over budget. They completely underestimated the magnitude of the site, and were not prepared to handle the situation once
they encountered it. Incineration in known to be one of the cheapest methods of waste disposable; the waste is simply burned, and the ashes buried. However, there are only a couple of drawbacks: the first being that burning waste releases toxic chemicals into the air and the second is that once the ashes are buried, toxins continue to leach into the soil. The EPA started emergency cleanup at the ETC site because of political pressure in Washington from environmental and public interest groups. They wanted to do the job quickly and cheaply because the EPA needed something to make themselves look more appealing when Congress was debating the fate of Superfund. Unfortunately, the EPA bit off a little more than it could chew, and once again accomplished nothing it set out to do.
One of CATE s major concerns is offsite contamination. ETC had no method of containing or storing storm water runoff and ETC sent employees to nearby residences after heavy rains to pump out contaminated water and spread sand over the contaminated areas on several occasions. The surface water runoff from the ETC site not only distributes contaminated water through the backyards of adjacent houses, but the contaminates eventually find their way into local bodies of water. There have been two corroborated effects resulting from storm water runoff, the first being the level of dioxin and other contaminates on the residential sites was found to be twice that of the ETC site contamination (Dunham Cleanup 1). This is most likely due to the accumulation of toxins over
the years. The rain water rinses the contaminants from the site and onto surrounding areas; therefore, the level of contamination is higher in surrounding areas than that of the actual site itself. The second effect is that the contaminates from the ETC site have leached into the ground water. These contaminates have formed a plume and are currently moving Southeast toward the drinking water aquifer. It has been discovered that this plume from the ETC site has joined with a plume from the Agrico Chemical fertilizer plant site, another Superfund site, and both are currently headed in the same direction (Dunham Cleanup 1). It is also suspected that these contaminants will reach Bayou Texar in one to three years. It is not yet known what the result of the contaminants in the bayou will be. However, they are not expect to be good.
In addition to this, out of the millions of dollars that has been spent by the government on the ETC site, there has been no money spent on relocation of the people living adjacent to the site. Dr. Jole Hirschhorn, a technical advisor for Superfund was quoted as saying, “if the EPA determined that the contamination levels at the Escambia site were high enough and threatening enough to warrant an expensive excavation, how could it allow residents to remain living on land immediately next to the site that was even more contaminated than the site itself?” This statement perfectly expresses the thoughts and feelings of CATE (Dunham Cleanup 2). Hearing the evidence myself, I too wondered why the
EPA did not relocate or at least warn the residents of Rosewood Terrace and the surrounding neighborhoods.
However, the ETC site in Pensacola is only a small part of a much bigger problem. This problem, like most of our countries problems resides in Washington DC. Legislation of the Superfund act has been pledged with problems from the beginning. Called one of the nation s most costly and ineffective environmental laws, the program has been mismanaged and neglected for years. There are several problems with the current Superfund law: Superfund is constantly entangled in endless litigation of who is going to pay for the clean up of contaminated sites; this of course leads to soaring costs in operation, something for which Superfund is notorious (GAIN Partisan 2). In addition, this allows less time for actual clean up and more time in the courtroom. Even though the EPA has authority to force polluters to pay for clean up, often times polluters will turn around and sew smaller companies to pay for clean up instead. In the fifteen years of the laws existence there has been 1,177 sites designated as Superfund nation wide, with an additional 100 sites added to the list annually, and of these 1,177 sites only 217 have been declared “clean.” Cleanup time of these sites averages nine years with an average cleanup cost of $25 million (GAIN Partisan 2). In addition 75% of these sites require long term maintenance.
In 1993, several House and Senate hearings were held to reform and reauthorize Superfund. Debate in the hearings was focused on four major goals:
“1) increase the rate of cleanup;
2) reduce program costs;
3) increase the fairness of the process, and finally;
4) polluters should pay for cleanup (GAIN Can 2).”
The Superfund law expired October 1, 1994; However, funding for the law is not expected to run out until the end of this year. Congress has until then to come to an agreement on exactly how to reform and reactivate Superfund.
In an attempt to speed up this process and gain a political foothold in Congress, the Clinton administration introduced the Superfund reform bill to Congress in 1994. However, the bill was buried in October and did not come up again until January of this year (GAIN Partisan 1). Debate in Congress over the reform bill produced several amendments which were added to the House version (HR 3800). However, such amendments may compromise the bills survival. The bill, a product of the National Commission on Superfund, “a broad coalition of industry, environmental groups, government, and others organized by the nonprofit Keystone Center of Colorado, and an administration proposal, also drawn up by a broad coalition” is a result of compromise between the groups in the coalition. Any changes made in Congress may result in members
of the coalition withdrawing their support and thereby demeaning the credibility of the bill.
Clinton s reform bill promises to speed up cleanups by 10 to 20%. It also promises to cut expenditures by 25%. National cleanup levels would be set for contaminates found most often at Superfund sites. Generic cleanup methods would also be established for similar sites, and future use of the of the land would be taken into consideration when determining how clean a site must be. The EPA is expecting the new plan to cut privet litigation costs by more than 50% (GAIN Superfund 2). The reform bill would also involve community activists, where they were formerly excluded.
While the Clinton reform bill looks wonderful on paper, it is my feeling that it will not be implemented in the fashions it was intended to be. All the things the bill sets out to accomplish are of a good nature and intention; however, in Washington bills that become laws have a notorious reputation despite reassurances, of costing the taxpayers more money which is nearly always mismanaged and squandered on something other than its intended purpose. One only needs to look at the current Superfund bill, which was implemented with the most noble of intentions to see the waste. I do not believe that Congress or the EPA or the government for that matter can effectively clean up toxic waste sites. I believe that only individuals who are personally effected by these toxic waste sites can force those responsible to take responsibility for their
negligence. In the case of the Escambia Treating Company, the issue of liability arises. Is the Soules family responsible for the cleanup of the site? Is the Soules family responsible for relocation of the local residence, should they pay for their medical bills that have accumulated due to sicknesses caused by exposure to contaminants, and should they further compensate them for the dramatic loss in property value the residents has suffered since their land has been contaminated? I believe that the Soules family is responsible for all of these things. While it is true that the EPA did worsen the condition as far as the residence were concerned, there would never have been a problem in the first place if ETC did not contaminate the site. Furthermore since the property apparently has no other owner than Escambia Treating, and Escambia Treating is no longer in existence, the only liable party I can find is the Soules family themselves. While it is true that the Soules family did not own the company during its last years of operation, most of the contamination of the site and the surrounding residential areas occurred while the Soules still owned ETC. It is my opinion that the Soules family is responsible for the contamination of both the site and the surrounding residential areas, as well as for the health problems caused by exposure to these chemicals experienced by any of the surrounding residence. I feel that the Soules family is ignoring the issue for several reasons, firstly and most importantly because they can. The Soules family is not legally responsible for any damage caused by ETC. This is because the Soules family
sold all their shares in the company after turning it into a stock corporation in 1982. Once they sold their stock they were no longer liable for anything ETC did in the past or future. I also believe, based on general reaction, they simply do not care. The situation is particularly easy to ignore because of the social status of the Soules family in Pensacola. It is also easy to ignore because of the social status of the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. However, I do believe that despite the initial apathy towards the situation, more people in the community are starting to take an interest and showing some concern towards the situation at the ETC site and the surrounding areas. They are coming to realize that the situation at ETC effects all of Pensacola and not just the residences of Rosewood Terrace, Oak Park, and Goulding. Hopefully this new found interest will bring CATE one step closer to accomplishing their goals. This new found interest may also bring to light what the EPA has done and force people to get more active in government activities. Maybe by understanding what the EPA has done at the ETC site will cause people to become curious about other governmental activities.
As for the Soules Family, I do not believe that they are going to pay one cent for cleanup or relocation. The fact that they withdrew from the corporation makes them liable for nothing. Even if CATE did take legal action towards the Soules family, I do not believe they would get very far. Unfortunately it appears that the Soules family is going to get off scott free. What is even more
unfortunate however, is the fact that the only current owner of the ETC site on the books is Escambia Treating Company. Due to the fact that ETC is no longer in existence they have not paid their taxes for several years. This means that the City of Pensacola may take possession of the site and the burden of cleanup may fall on the taxpayers of the city. Not only has the Soules family burdened the unsuspecting residents of Rosewood Terrace, Oak Park, and Goulding, but they may also effect the wallets of every unsuspecting resident of the City of Pensacola.
It is unfortunate that those who caused the problem in the first place will not be those who fix it. However, the Soules family is not directly responsible for the health problems caused during the EPA proceedings at the ETC site. Therefore, I believe that the EPA should relocate the residents of the surrounding communities. I believe they should also pay for any related medical expenses. The EPA is at fault in this instance. They did not warn anyone that they would be digging, nor did they take any precautions. It is for these reasons that I believe that the EPA should take responsibility in this instance.