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Neighborhood finally moving away from Mount Dioxin

Mt. Dioxin October 18, 1996
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Brian Cabell

PENSACOLA, Florida (CNN) -- A Pensacola neighborhood has finally convinced the government that bureaucrats left a biological time bomb on the community's doorstep five years ago. As a result, the government has initiated the third largest environmental relocation in U.S. history.

Residents of this working-class Pensacola neighborhood blame many of their problems on their next-door neighbor, which they've dubbed "Mount Dioxin." The sprawling mound of dirt, contaminated with dioxin, arsenic and other chemicals, was started in 1991 when the Environmental Protection Agency began excavating a wood treatment plant in the area.

The EPA called the excavation an emergency action, but then left the mountain of dirt there for three years, assuring residents it was harmless.

Five years later, the EPA has changed its tune, but not without a cost. Today, more than 40 tiny white crosses are scattered throughout the neighborhood, each put up by a resident who lost a family member in the last five years. Almost all died from cancer and respiratory disease.


"It's not old people. It is some of the young people in their 40s and 30s, because there's a young man died right there, he was in his 30s," Pickett said, pointing at one yard adorned with a cross.

Residents say they suffered not only deaths but also chronic ailments. One resident said her daughters refused to play outside because the air would make them itch and burn, and give them headaches.

And another said she does her gardening at the risk of getting so dizzy she "falls up against the walls."

The EPA has admitted its error in leaving the mound of toxic dirt in the neighborhood. As EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tim Fields told CNN, "It is clear that it was a major mistake to dig up the material and leave it there in place for this long a period of time. That is not something that we would like to have done."

Having fully acknowledged the problem, the EPA moved two weeks ago to rectify it. The entire neighborhood -- 158 homes and 200 apartment units -- will be relocated for health reasons.

EPA site

Many in this majority African-American community believe the problem has lingered because a they say a racist EPA puts a low priority on non-white communities. The agency denies the charge of racism, claiming excavation and analysis take time.

The Pensacola relocation, which will take a year, will be the nation's third largest environmental relocation. Only Love Canal, New York in 1980 and Times Beach, Missouri in 1982 were larger.

Once the residents leave, the neighborhood will be destroyed, the homes removed, and the contaminated soil hauled away. Eventually, the area will be converted into an industrial development.

But for now, the neighborhood still has to live with the tall, forbidding fence bordering the toxic site. The community remains haunted by this poisoned patch of land known as Mount Dioxin.


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