Here’s a look a the top 10 findings in the Escambia County grand jury report issued Tuesday:
1. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Escambia County Utilities Authority failed to do all they could to prevent and remove pollution in Escambia County.
2. More than half of Escambia County’s public water wells have been contaminated. (The Escambia County Utilities Authority says current tests show the entire drinking water supply is safe.)
3. Local officials should develop a plan to protect Escambia’s groundwater, which is drawn from a shallow aquifer and is easily contaminated.
4. Industry is the main source of pollution, having left six Superfund sites contaminated with dioxin, lead, fluoride and other toxins.
5. Dry-cleaning solvents, fuels leaked from storage tanks and other poisonous substances from abandoned landfills also have contributed to pollution.
6. The Utilities Authority failed to understand how serious the radium contamination was in the 1990s and then tried to cover it up. The authority staff knew for several years that drinking water from some wells was contaminated with radium and other harmful substances but did not tell the authority board or the public until 1998. The source of the radium still has not been pinpointed.
7. Conoco, owner of the old fertilizer plant site in central Escambia County, delayed efforts to determine the extent of pollution and persuaded regulators to let it go untreated to avoid paying for an expensive remedy.
8. It would take hundreds of millions of dollars to remove contaminants from the Sand-and- Gravel Aquifer, and the cost to treat contamination of the entire water system is incalculable. These costs could force the area to obtain an alternative and costly source of water supplies, such as desalinated water.
9. Efforts to assess any adverse health effects caused by industrial contamination have been uncoordinated, incomplete and often redundant. Even at low levels, exposure to contaminants can have multiple adverse health effects, primarily cancer. The health of people in some predominantly black communities and poorer neighborhoods, including areas near Superfund sites, is worse than the health of other Floridians.
10. The owner of Escambia Treating Co., a wood-preserving facility in central Escambia County, abandoned the site in 1991, leaving it to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean up. Thirteen years later, the EPA continues to “study” the extent of groundwater contamination as a prerequisite to the cleanup of more than 800 acres of city property
Former ECUA Executive Director Van “A.E.” Van Dever and former science, technical and regulatory administrator Bernie Dahl “took it upon themselves to delay reporting (radium) violations and trivialized the problems.”
“Conoco and others, aided by consultants, avoided cleanup by persuading government officials to approve of the least expensive remedy, which was natural attenuation. Obviously, Conoco and others were motivated by financial reasons, not by health, safety and welfare considerations.”
“EPA chose to wait, and now the agency tells us that after 70 years, nature will have corrected the damage done to the groundwater. Even if that is possible, 70 years will not correct the damage to the lives and properties of those injured by pollution.”
A Conoco consultant in a memorandum of an August 1992 meeting: “We are pleased the EPA has become dependent on us – working diligently to keep decision-making in the companies’ hands.”