It’s been nearly a half-century since President Richard M. Nixon — a Republican — established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970.
Born in the wake of elevated concern about environmental pollution across the country, the formation of the EPA consolidated in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.
But the EPA has increasingly come under attack by conservatives who charge that the agency’s regulations stifle business growth and hurt the nation’s ability to compete economically. During last year’s presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump expressed support for abolishing the agency. Now, newly-elected Northwest Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has filed H.R. 861, a one-sentence bill that would do just that.
While the bill has little chance of making it out of committee, much less to a floor vote, the controversial proposal has caused an uproar here on the Gulf Coast and across the country.
Here’s a look at some of the environmental disasters cleaned up by the EPA here in Pensacola:
Escambia Wood Treating Company site
Located on North Palafox Street, this 26-acre site was home to Escambia Wood Treating Company, which manufactured treated utility poles, foundation pilings and lumber treated with creosote and PCP from 1942 to 1982. Unfortunately, the company dumped the toxic wastewater resulting from the process into unlined pits on the site, contaminating soil and groundwater at the site as well as across 69 acres of neighborhoods located nearby.
The company filed bankruptcy and abandoned the site in 1991, and in 1994, the EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List. Over the past 20 years, extensive remediation has taken place at the site. Contaminated soil was dug up and placed in a lined and capped cell, and more than 350 households were permanently relocated away from the site. Work to remediate contaminated groundwater is ongoing.
Agrico Chemical Company site
Located at Fairfield Drive and Interstate 110 — right next door to the Escambia Wood Treating Company site — the 35-acre Agrico site was home to agrichemical production operations from 1889 to 1975. As with the neighboring site, toxic wastewater was dumped directly into four unlined ponds on the site, contaminating both soil and groundwater with chemicals like radium-226, radium-228, sulfuric acid, lead, and fluorides.
EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List in 1989. By 1997, the soil contamination was cleaned up. All former buildings were removed, and the site now consists of a grass-covered field with two large ponds serving as stormwater controls. Pensacola attorney Mike Papantonio won a $70 million settlement from ConocoPhillips/Agrico on behalf of property owners.
Pensacola Naval Air Station
Yep, even Pensacola’s beloved Naval Air Station — the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and home to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels — has been cleaned up by the EPA.
Since first being placed on the National Priorities List of contaminated sites in 1989, more than $100 million has been spent by the federal government on the cleanup and remediation of the 6,500-acre installation, including removal and remediation of contaminated ground and surface water, sediments, and soil.
The base is still an active Superfund site, and cleanup is ongoing, thought the EPA says the contamination does not threaten people living and working near the base.
American Creosote Works site
The American Creosote Works (ACW) Superfund site is an inactive wood-treating facility located in Pensacola’s Sanders Beach neighborhood, between Bayou Chico and downtown Pensacola.
The 18-acre ACW site operated as a wood preserving plant from 1902 until 1981. The plant used creosote and later pentachlorophenol to treat lumber in unlined ponds, chemicals from which seeped into groundwater and discharged into Pensacola Bay, located just 600 yards from the site.
The EPA has been working at the site for more than 30 years, completing a number of remediation efforts and spending millions of dollars. EPA officials say remediation efforts could be completed sometime in 2019.
A 2003 reuse plan calls for the site to be redeveloped as a public park and recreation area, with potential mixed-use development along Main Street at the northern edge of the site.
The Beulah Landfill site includes the area where Escambia County operated a landfill from 1950 to 1984. EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in 1990 because of contaminated groundwater resulting from landfill operations.
The site is about 101 acres and is located about 10 miles northwest of downtown Pensacola. After requiring the state of Florida and Escambia County to clean up the site and close the landfill, the EPA deleted the site from the NPL in 1998.
As a result of the EPA-led cleanup, the site is now used recreationally. Today, the northern part of Beulah Landfill, now known as Fritz Field, is a successful model airplane park. Organizations cannot use money generated from the use of the site for individual profit, but rather, must invest in site improvements to ensure continued maintenance of the site.
Dubose Oil Products Company site
Located in Cantonment, the 10-acre Dubose Oil Products Company site was home to a waste storage, treatment, recycling and disposal facility from 1979 to 1982. Waste oils, petroleum refining waste, wood treatment process waste, spent solvents, and other toxic waste products were handled at the site. In 1983, the site was declared an “imminent hazard to groundwater” by the Escambia County Circuit Court.
Place on the NPL in 1986, the EPA led a multi-agency cleanup that included digging up contaminated soil, using living organisms to break down contaminants in soil, draining and backfilling on-site ponds with clean soil, removing on-site structures, grading and revegetating dug-up areas, installing surface water runoff controls, monitoring groundwater, and placing institutional controls on the site property to limit land use. The site was removed from the NPL in 2004.
Pioneer Sand Company site
The Pioneer Sand Company site is located near Saufley Field off of Blue Angel Parkway. The 11-acre Superfund site includes the area where Pioneer Sand Company disposed of wastes and sludge in an inactive quarry from 1973 to 1979. EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in 1983 because of contaminated groundwater and soil resulting from disposal operations.
Listed on the NPL in 1983, the site’s cleanup included collecting and stabilizing contaminated sludge and soil, landfill capping, groundwater monitoring, construction of a system to collect contaminated water as it passes through contaminated material, and methane gas collection and venting. The site was removed from the NPL in 1993.