Jacksonville, Florida is a large industrial hotspot of the south with a 38-foot deep water port, four airports, three sea ports, a major highway system that connects three major interstates, and a railroad system. An abundance of industries and business headquarters reside in the area such as CSX Corp., Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., and Fidelity National Financial, Inc. Unfortunately, industries and businesses that are long gone have left the industries and businesses that operate in the area with an enduring legacy of contaminated environmental sites. In the past, materials that may have been considered non-hazardous were disposed improperly by both the companies and residents, leaving certain Jacksonville areas in environmental distress.
Steven D. Buser, a recently retired Golder Associates’ environmental consultant, gives the people of Jacksonville a bitter insight into the environmental distress the city endures, in his interview. According to Buser, most of the contaminated sites that he had to clean up during his career, were in urban areas where a lot of industrial buildings and railroads existed earlier. Buser stated that the Northside and possibly the Westside had more cleanups than any other side of town due to the low value land in those areas that companies would buy for their industries. Due to the contamination caused by accidental spills and other elements, Buser said that it could possibly take up to 30 to 40 years to clean up a single site.
With laws and regulations in place today, Buser said, “contaminated sites are required to be reported by companies to be examined, create a remedial action plan if over standard levels, and cleaned up as soon as possible”. No wonder environmental agencies put their best consultants out there to do the job as it can be long and tedious work.
The interview progressed into which sites got attention sooner than others to get cleaned up and how long it may take on average for a site to be decontaminated. There are factors that play into that decision, such as, if the company of the contaminated site is still in business to pay for the site cleanup, legal issues, whether the existent company can and will fund it, etc. If they can’t find anyone to take responsibility, there are state fund programs to help cover the cost, but it may take several years for the cleanup to be accomplished because the state funds are limited. Every site is unique as far as cleaning is concerned because of the type of contamination (groundwater, surface water, soil, etc.) and the chemicals that contaminated the area (petroleum, arsenic, diesel, solvents, lead, etc.) These factors help determine the method to be is used and how long it will take to decontaminate the area.
“Soil contamination is usually a quicker clean up because they can dig it up and haul it off to an industrial landfill, what they call a subtitle D landfill, or if it meets the definition of a hazardous waste it will go to a subtitle C landfill,” Buser addressed. “Groundwater contamination can take many years.”
The water can spread over a decent amount of land. Decontamination costs can vary based on the type of cleanup, to other circumstances such as the residents affected. For instance,
“If it’s a highly contaminated area, residents living there would be relocated somewhere else,” stated Buser. “Residents can sue the company if they feel that the contamination has cost their land value or if they have suffered from health issues… If the ground water is contaminated, the government will issue a mandatory warning not to drink the water and will run a line from a water treatment plant, so the residents can get fresh, drinkable water,” Buser further explained.
Some of the ways in which the city tries to shield its citizens from harm’s way is by giving them city water and issuing water filters to their homes. If residents decide to sue, but have a low income, the residents can enter a class action law suit for multiple people; residents do not have to pay attorneys unless they win a recovery out of it and lawyers take a percentage of the recovery. The cleanup costs can range from $100,000 to $1,000,000, or even more. Those costs involve not just the site cleanup itself, but also the attorneys and environmental consultants.
Protective wear for employees depends on the type and concentration of chemicals. It could vary from Tyvek suits, hazmat suits, to a breathing apparatus.
Jacksonville is an industrial environment contamination “minefield”. With all the companies and industries, it’s almost impossible to avoid contamination. Luckily, we have high-skilled environmental consultants such as Buser in the field to help control and diminish contaminated sites and to keep residents well informed on what really goes on under our noses.
by Sarah Buser