Washington, DC — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has yet to take action on groundwater contamination spreading from the Big Wheel C & D landfill in Bay County despite more than two years of agency inspections showing high levels of aluminum, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Groundwater problems in Bay County are surfacing on the heels of a grand jury report in nearby Escambia County finding persistent water pollution problems due to DEP non-enforcement. Both Escambia and Bay Counties are supposed to be overseen by the same DEP District Office, based in Pensacola.
In Bay County, DEP issued a permit to Aztec Environmental, Inc, to operate a construction and debris facility adjacent to the Steelfield Landfill. Beginning in March 2002, DEP inspection reports on the site found “aluminum was present in concentrations above the groundwater monitoring standards in all the monitoring wells.” More disturbing was even higher levels of aluminum in a “background well,” indicating that contaminants may have either migrated, or DEP has allowed pre-existing contamination to become worse over the years.
Exposure to excessive concentrations of aluminum is associated with bone disease, renal problems and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. The levels recorded at Steelfield were were several times above state drinking water standards.
“DEP’s new motto of ‘More Protection, Less Process’ is only half right in that the agency has no process for following up and correcting violations,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for DEP who has been investigating the agency’s enforcement policies and performance for the past year. “This case is part of a larger pattern within DEP where reported violations sit for years in a limbo of non-enforcement.”
Bay County is one of Florida’s emerging tourist destinations, home to some of the state’s most beautiful and pristine beaches. Its growing population swells each year as tens of thousands of collegians flock to Bay County for spring break.
“Pollution is contributing to a growing water crisis in Florida,” added Phillips. “A lax state agency is permitting pollution to render more and more of our groundwater undrinkable and may also be creating a potential public health disaster down the road.”