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"Put [Lime Sludge] In Your Neighborhood": Dunbar Residents Dissatisfied With City's Dumpsite Tests

The city held a workshop for Dunbar residents
The city held a workshop for Dunbar residents

The City of Fort Myers held an open house Thursday night for the residents of Dunbar. The city wanted to update the predominately black neighborhood about the arsenic found on a plot of land that the city used as a dumpsite dating back to the 1960s.

An environmental consulting firm briefed City Council on the matter earlier this month. They told city officials that the arsenic present had no chance of getting into the city’s drinking water, which is the source for water for most homes in Dunbar. Even if it did get into the drinking water, the consulting firm said that it posed little risk to human health. 

Arsenic found. More tests to be done. # environment @wgcu— Quincy J. Walters (@quincy_walters) January 25, 2018

As people entered the Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Community Center in Dunbar Thursday evening for the city’s open house event, they went into a room to view a narrated Power Point presentation about the  most recent test results.

"Arsenic was the metal found that exceeded the primary drinking water standard," said the narrator. 

After the presentation, participants were free to go to different tables helmed by scientists and engineers to talk about multiple aspects of the testing process.

Black & Veatch, the environmental consulting company, presented findings of their test results to City Council earlier this month and concluded that even though high arsenic levels were present, there was little chance of it getting into drinking water and that even if it did get into the drinking water, the levels—which were 5 times higher than the EPA’s safe drinking water standard—aren't high enough to pose a health concern.

But Regional Chief of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, John Iglehart, said the company the city contracted to do the tests has more work to do.

"A little bit more information on the profile, a little bit more information on the leach ability of the material that's there at the site," said Iglehart

Leachability refers to the arsenic’s ability to spread.

When Black & Veatch presented test results to the city a few weeks ago, the environmental consultants said the city had a few options.

The city could simply do nothing, it could put some asphalt or concrete down and make a park or a walking trail, or it could completely remove the soil for future development.

Dunbar resident Barbara Parker sparred with Black & Veatch engineering manager Mark Martin, and said doing nothing is not an option.

"That's a ridiculous option," said Parker.

"Doesn't matter if it's ridiculous," said Martin. "In engineering we come up with the ‘do nothing’ option. You always put in a ‘do nothing.’ [It] doesn't mean the city is not going to do anything.”

"And after reading this [ News-Press] article, the residents in the area would feel that you plan to do nothing," Parker said. "To put it in their heads, making them paranoid; That just sounds like you need to take whatever we give you."

City Manager Saeed Kazemi attended the workshop. He was the Fort Myers City Engineer back in 2007—when tests were first being done on the Dunbar dumpsite.

"I knew about the sludge, I was the first one who did the testing, I was the first one who talked to DEP," said Kazemi. "We did the testing, at that time [in 2007] they told me this testing will continue every year and we'll followed up and  they said there was nothing wrong. The same test result we got then . . .Then, they said nothing is happening nothing is changing."

Kazemi said the results are essentially the same back then as they were now: arsenic could not have gotten into people’s drinking water and even if it did, that it just wasn’t high enough to be a health concern.

However, two residents confronted Kazemi at this workshop. One is Shirley Byrd.

"Put [the sludge] in your backyard."

Dunbar residents unsatisfied with . @cityftmyers presentation. They want the dump site completely cleaned up. And the idea of putting a park on the site isn't satisfactory either. #environment # Florida @wgcu— Quincy J. Walters (@quincy_walters) January 25, 2018

"Put [the sludge] in your backyard," said Shirley Byrd.  "If you did in 2007, this is 2018 so why haven't nothing changed? Why didn't you take this stuff away?" Byrd asked.

"There is nothing wrong with it to take it away," Kazemi countered. "What's the problem?"

"Put it in your neighborhood and tell me nothing wrong with it," Byrd said. 

Even though the city’s environmental consultant said that the site does not pose a health concern, Dunbar resident Crystal Johnson said having the dumpsite remain is still bad for the neighborhood.

"It is causing the value of the properties around it to be worthless," Johnson said. "We know that it's not clean and it needs to be removed."

The DEP’s Jon Iglehart said the next step is for more tests to be done, but there’s a caveat.

"If the material were to be removed, further testing could be stopped and it would be a post removal testing that would verify that the material is not there anymore," Iglehart said. 

So, why doesn’t the city just clean it up?

Well, Iglehart said that’s an expensive process and even when the arsenic lime sludge is removed, the city of Fort Myers would have to figure out where to put it.

City Manager Kazemi said the workshop was to gauge what the citizens want as participants were invited to submit written comments. Kazemi said whatever choice most Dunbar residents want—whether they want nothing done, construct a park on the site, have all the soil removed—Kazemi hopes the process can get started by the end of this year. 

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Quincy Walters is a reporter and backup host for WGCU.