JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few days before Hurricane Irma struck Florida, Hurricane Harvey unearthed chemicals and toxic contamination in Texas, adding a further threat to the health and safety of Americans. So the question for Florida has been whether, and to what extent, Irma did the same. To find out, Environment Florida and U.S. PIRG conducted tests in Jacksonville to determine if residents living near Superfund sites were at risk. Those tests do not show chemical spikes.
“Our findings indicate that chemicals did not wash off from these four sites into streets and neighborhoods,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida, one of the non-profit organizations that conducted the tests. “We’re really glad to have this information to share with residents. We can’t guarantee that no toxins escaped, but we didn’t find any.”
Environment Florida gathered soil and water samples outside four Superfund sites in Jacksonville:
- Kerr McGee Chemical Corp.- 1611 TALLEYRAND AVENUE, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32206
- Pickettville Road Landfill- 5150 PICKETTVILLE RD, JACKSONVILLE, FL 32205
- Coleman-Evans Wood Preserving Co.- 101 CELERY ST, WHITEHOUSE, FL 32220
- Hipps Road Landfill- HIPPS RD, DUVAL COUNTY, FL 32222
The samples were sent to an accredited lab for testing. Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG analyzed the results of the tests. No unusual levels of contaminants were found.
“Storms happen, but people harmed by natural disasters should not also have to worry about toxic chemicals spreading into their neighborhoods,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, a national toxics expert for U.S. PIRG and a frequent commentator on the chemical spills resulting from Hurricane Harvey. “It’s a relief to hear that the tests from outside some Jacksonville sites didn’t find unusual levels of contamination. We need these sites cleaned up and the contaminated soil removed from flood-prone areas so that in the future we have one less thing to worry about after a storm.”
Cook-Schultz pointed to several policy decisions that have hampered or could slow the cleanup of sites across the U.S., including the 93 Superfund sites in Florida that still contain toxic chemicals. The EPA needs to prioritize a faster response time for testing air and water after a disaster, including having more personnel ready to secure Superfund and other hazardous sites. In Florida so far, only 57 of 93 active Superfund sites have been assessed for flood damage and spills.
Superfund sites also need to be cleaned up and fully remediated, especially sites in flood-prone areas. In 1995, Congress let the Superfund Polluter Pays tax expire. By 2003, the Superfund's coffers were empty. As a result, orphaned site cleanups are now financed through taxpayer dollars. The loss of industry tax revenues led to a decline in Superfund cleanup performance. In 1999, for example, the EPA cleaned up 89 orphaned sites. By 2009, the number dropped to 19 per year. This year, President Trump has proposed a 30% cut in funding for Superfund cleanup.
Further, the delay of the Risk Management Proposal by the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in June is a problem for toxic sites. The Risk Management Proposal would have required toxic sites to coordinate with local emergency personnel to create plans and best practices during natural disasters.
“Florida has plenty to deal with after this storm,” said Rubiello. “Those in charge of the toxic sites can do us all a favor by staying in contact with the community .”
U.S. PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.
Environment Florida is a Florida-based environmental group that is devoted to protecting the places we love, advancing the environmental values we share, and winning real results for our environment.
Frontier Group is a nonprofit research and policy development center providing information and ideas to help citizens build a cleaner, healthier, more democratic America. We document the problems created by abundance and propose public policy solutions to address them.