On April 3, 2016, the ad hoc Committee for Environmental Justice in Escambia County hosted an event in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s live and memory of his assassination forty-eight years ago. Dr. King was murdered one day after supporting a sanitation workers strike in Memphis. It is therefore fitting that we dedicate this remembrance day to environmental justice.
The bedrock finding of environmental justice is that communities of color are disproportionately affected negatively by siting decisions for chemical plants, industrial facilities, coal-burning power plants, toxic waste storage facilities, and toxic waste treatment plants. Health disparities persist between whites, Blacks, and Hispanics even after controlling for income, education, and insurance coverage. Health disparities between whites and Blacks in Escambia County exist. There should not be race and class disparities.
In September 2009, the University of West Florida's Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Remediation released its final report, "Assessment of Environmental Pollution and Community Health in Northwest Florida."
One part of the report (page 51 pdf) examined air pollution from three different sources--fine particulate matter (PM), ground level ozone, and air toxics--with the "air quality risk" in that order. Fine particulate matter was the "greatest" health risk as well as imposing the "highest per person per year [health] costs." Two of the many chemicals of concern in this category are sulfate and organic carbon, both of which were "large" fractions of the total fine particulate matter. Using the latest data and sophisticated modeling, the UWF researchers identified four "Risk Zones" in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties.
The Georgia Institute of Technology's preliminary assessment of the health effects of fine particulate matter, ground-level ozone, and air toxics issued in December 2007 noted that "roughly half of the mass is inorganic with sulfate being the largest contributor." The Georgia researchers also noted that "sulfate is often associated with coal combustion" (page 6 pdf). The organic fine particulates, both primary and secondary, have multiple unspecified sources. Thus, the named facility for inorganic sulfates is Gulf Power's coal-burning Crist Plant. However, the data suggested that sources sulfur dioxide came from Florida (16%), Alabama (24%), and other states (43%), which includes 10% from Tennessee (page 11 pdf). And, the Institute's researchers calculated that fine particulate matter cost $1,838 in per capita annual health costs while ground level ozone cost $952. Air toxics cost $1.02 per person per year (page 4 pdf). Thus, reductions in sulfate particulates would depend upon reductions or eliminations of coal-burning in other states, in addition to Florida.
In other words, fine particulate matter discharged from point-sources imposed additional health risks on individuals and communities, as well as health cost expenditures for individuals and the community. And, keep in mind that Escambia County can barely afford these extra costs. The Partnership for a Healthy Community's 2012 "Comprehensive Assessment" reported (page 7 pdf) that of Florida's 67 counties, Escambia County "ranks 18th in total population, but 24th in per capita income, and 63rd in government expenditures for health services."
Risk Zone 4 in Escambia County (page 42 pdf) is "near Cantonment in Escambia County about 10 km northwest of Downtown Pensacola in the vicinity of a large pulp and paper manufacturing operation.... This risk zone partly overlaps with Zip codes 32533 and 32534. Zip code 32534 has worse rates than its matching Zip codes for some cancer-related causes of mortality in African Americans. Both Zip codes have worse mortality due to birth defects." The high risk in this Risk Zone, or Sacrifice Zone, if you will, was due to "methanol, acetaldehyde, benzene and xylene, which are used as chemical solvents in the pulping operation."
The unnamed facility in the UWF report is International Paper, the latest pulp and paper polluter that began in 1941 as the Florida Pulp and Paper Company. In 1946, it became the St. Regis Paper Company. In 1984, it was purchased by Champion International, and in 2000 it was bought by International Paper, according to the Friends of Perdido Bay's "A Brief History of Perdido Bay" by Jim Lane.
The UWF study also examined mortality rates from COPD, stroke, and lung cancer (page 59 pdf). In terms air pollution and death rates, the researchers found that "All the mortality rates are significantly positively associated with proportion blacks, people age 65 or above, poverty rate, and air pollution from both mobile and point sources." Mobile means vehicular traffic and point sources are specific polluting facilities like International Paper, Gulf Power's coal-burning Crist Plant, and other sources.
In August 2009, the University of West Florida "Integration" study (page 17 pdf), examined the relationship between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) averaged at the census tract level and measurements for "population density, percent whites, percent non-white, poverty rate, industrial employment, and educational attainment." The researchers found a "spatial relationship exists between the location of TRI sites and two of the variables (i.e. population density and industrial employment) but this does not seem to lead to greater exposure of any racial group to emissions."
Translated into English, it means exposure to toxic releases was linked to living in proximity to a toxic release point and working in a toxic facility or industry. That it was not linked to "any racial group" means that we--white, Black, Latino, Asian, First Peoples--are all exposed, as long as we live in proximity to the toxic release point.
THE 1999 AND 2004 SPECIAL GRAND JURY REPORTS
How did all this environmental pollution and negative health effects come about in Escambia County? It would be easy and tempting to dismiss the answers as the work of "radical environmentalists" or dismiss me as a "democratic socialist" because I am on the steering committee of Pensacola for Bernie Sanders.
But, the real, definitive answers came from your neighbors--the ones you go to church with, attend events at the Sanger Theater with, who coach girls soccer or coach Little League baseball, or shop with you or buy goods from your stores.
The answer comes from the 1999 Special Grand Jury for the First Judicial Circuit. It was the Chief Judge at the request of State Attorney "who found it in the public interest: (1) to inquire into factors that are affecting, or that are likely to affect, the area's air and water quality; and (2) to assess the efforts of regulators in protecting, maintaining, and improving the area's air and water quality" (page 1 pdf). There are 224 pdf pages in the report. The Special Grand Jury's report heard "testimony, reviewed documents, and carefully weighed and considered the totality of all the information presented to us. This involved taking the sworn testimony of more than one hundred witnesses, including scientists, engineers, biologists, chemists, economists, businessmen, government officials, and citizens; reviewing hundreds of maps, diagrams, studies, reports, and records; and weighing and evaluating conflicting information, and the interests, of those involved."
In terms of surface water (page 1 pdf), the Special Grand Jury concluded, "The causes are various, but degradation is the result primarily of discharges by industry (especially the pulp and paper mill and chemical factories), sewage treatment plants, and stormwater runoff."
In terms of ground water supply (page 2 pdf), your empaneled neighbors concluded, "it has been widely contaminated and will be further contaminated. The causes are several, but they are largely the result of poor controls or practices by industry and business that allowed spills, leaks, or
discharges of toxic pollutants to contaminate the surficial aquifer and many of our drinking water wells, both public and private."
The Special Grand Jury (page 2 pdf) observed that pollution had really economic, social, and health costs that fell on local residents: "pollution has impaired surface waters, destroyed fish and wildlife habitat, and reduced the number and diversity of aquatic species; pollution has contaminated the groundwater, and many of our public and private wells, which are used for drinking, irrigation, and other needs; air pollution has imposed risks to our health, restricted outdoor activity, and added to the impairment of surface waters. These circumstances threaten the overall health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the community and the natural resources essential to a good quality of life."
The Special Grand Jury (pages 2-3 pdf) found that "regulators in general" and specifically Florida's Department of Environmental Protection "did not" act to protect, maintain, and improve the environment. In fact, the Grand Jury observed that "Instead of acting to protect, maintain and improve the environment, regulators have done more studies, duplicating previous work. They have substituted studies for action, because studies are less costly, and less controversial, than acting to improve or restore the environment."
Specifically, the "Northwest District of the Department of Environmental Protection failed to properly implement and enforce the environmental laws, rules and regulations. The district office succumbed to political, economic, and other pressures, allowing regulated businesses, industries and individuals to pollute the area's air and water."
In other words, local residents, looking to the Department of Environmental Protection to protect the environment and them, instead found that the Florida DEP allowed aggressive industrial polluters like Champion International and other companies, which created six highly toxic Super Fund sites inside Escambia County, three of which are out of control inside Pensacola (Creosote Works, Escambia Wood, and NAS Pensacola), to pollute for profit with legal and financial impunity.
The 1999 Grand Jury also observed (page 3 pdf) that "local government officials were too often more interested in promoting and protecting the current interests of industry and business, especially the homebuilders, without any attempt to fit those particular interests into a community plan that allows for rational and sustainable development. In doing so, they do not seem interested in conserving or protecting the area's natural resources and have even scoffed at those who do."
In 2004, a second Special Grand Jury focused on ground water contamination and placed specific blame on industry and regulators for allowing contamination to continue without remedial cleanup actions.
The second Grand Jury declared as a matter of found fact (page 1 pdf): "Industry is the principal source of ground water contamination, especially in the southern part of the county, where numerous wells have been contaminated by industrial discharges. The most contaminated industrial sites are the Superfund sites. In Florida, only Dade, Hillsborough and Broward Counties have more Superfund sites than Escambia County. Although these sites were proposed for clean up years ago, clean up has not occurred at most of them."
The 2004 Grand Jury found that industry had shifted all the costs of environmental cleanup on to the taxpaying public (page 2 pdf)--in a very poor county: "At heavily contaminated sites, such as the Escambia Treating and American Creosote Works sites, the costs of contamination have been shifted to the public because the polluting companies closed their businesses and abandoned their properties. Recently, private suits were brought against the owners of the Escambia Treating and Agrico Superfund sites to recover damages for private property owners from the polluting companies."
And, the Grand Jury further observed (page 3 pdf) that as a result of lawsuits by private citizens, records were uncovered showing that "Conoco, and other companies, delayed efforts to determine the extent of contamination, apparently to minimize financial liability. In addition, records show Conoco, and other companies, avoided responsibility for restoring the soil and ground water by persuading regulators to allow them merely to cover contaminated soil and allow pollutants to flow with the ground water and discharge into Bayou Texar and Pensacola Bay."
Not only did these large corporate polluters severely damage the county's environment and subsequently the health and well-being of nearby residents, as well as imposing costs to cleanup their widespread mess, but the City of Pensacola and Escambia County incurred additional lost revenue and the risk of urban sprawl as sections of the territory were unfit for human habitation (page 3 pdf): "The economic costs associated with soil and ground water contamination involve forcing neighborhoods to close, imposing a well construction moratorium, and removing hundreds of acres of city land from productive use and the tax rolls. The loss of use of the Superfund properties, in the heart of the city, for housing, business, and education likely will involve development of other county property and urban sprawl."
The 2004 Grand Jury report also noted (page 4 pdf) that "Corporate owners of the Agrico site have been able to avoid paying for clean up by using consultants who persuaded government officials to approve the least expensive remedy. EPA predicts that after 70 years of human inaction, nature will correct the damage done to the ground water; no prediction is made, however, about the effect of natural attenuation on the soil. Further, the damage to the lives and properties of those individuals injured, and the damage to Escambia County and the City of Pensacola will never be remedied by the EPA natural attenuation plan."
In other words, after contaminating an area in central Pensacola that could be used for housing and shops to generate extra tax revenue, all the Serious People decided that do nothing for 70 years would solve the problem. That is called Cost-Free/Penalty-Free Pollution.
The 2004 Grand Jury was scathing in its review of the actions of regulators at all levels of government (page 3 pdf): "We find that local, state, and federal government authorities, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Escambia County Utilities Authority failed, individually or collectively, to: monitor ground water sufficiently; notify customers and the general public of water quality violations at multiple wells in southern Escambia County; restore ground water resources at Superfund sites; and prevent future ground water contamination."
Like the 1999 Grand Jury who found that regulators allowed polluters to study the problem ad infinitum and ad nauseam without accomplishing anything, the 2004 Grand Jury rebuked (page 4 pdf) the Environmental Protection Agency for studying Escambia County's Super Fund sites: "The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection have not been sufficiently concerned with the health, safety, and welfare responsibilities they bear, or the consequences of their decisions. EPA has failed, after fifteen years, to delineate the extent of the contamination at the Escambia Treating Superfund site. Instead, EPA continues to 'study'' the extent of ground water contamination as a prerequisite to any clean up. Until recently, the health effects of the contamination have been largely ignored by federal and state authorities."
The 1999 Grand Jury report also noticed that because regulatory agencies had failed in their sworn duty to protect citizens from assault by toxic weapons from corporations, that "Citizens' Groups" (page 116 pdf) had been forced to intervene in self-defense. The Grand Jury noted, "In response to the failure of government to perform its regulatory duties and uphold the public interest with respect to the environment, a number of citizen groups have formed....Friends of the Prairie, Friends of Perdido Bay, Santa Rosa Sound Coalition, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, Bay Area Resource Council, Escambia County Citizen's Coalition, Citizens Planning Responsibly, and others."
The 1999 Grand Jury report noted (page 4 pdf) that it is up informed and involved citizens to provide local elected officials and regulatory bodies with goals and have them formulate plans. Said our neighbors, "In our inquiry, we saw that government action must be based on a goal or an objective. Without an ultimate goal, government action is not regulation, but merely work to no end. Perhaps more important, if we, the people, do not set a goal together for our government, then the interests of a few, powerful individuals or groups will do so."
Thus, MLK Jr's Day of Remembrance: Environmental Justice stands in an unbroken line from the 1999 Special Grand Jury report. Among the groups participating were Friends of Perdido Bay and Citizens Against Toxic Exposure. They were joined by Earth Ethics/Earth Action, Communities United in Environmental Justice, the Wedgewood Home Owners Association, the Northwest Florida American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (NW FL AFL-CIO), the Florida NAACP Environmental Justice Committee, the Tanyard Neighborhood Association, the National Movement for Human and Civil Rights, and CJ's Street Report. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference supported but could not participate. The Pensacola chapter of 350 Action supported the event.
What follows are video presentations of the speakers at the event with a short write-up of key points.
REV DR MLK JR: DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Lee PRYOR, NW FL AFL-CIO, master of ceremonies
The NW FL AFL-CIO is proud to sponsor events like this through the years. The labor movement remains concerned about voter suppression, civil rights violations, Black Lives Matter, toxic environments, and health and safety standards in neighborhoods.
Rev Dr Calvin AVANT, Unity in the Family Minisry, and, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
Wedgewood shared the national stage with Flint, Michigan at the latest Deep South Center's conference.
Mayan Dance Introduction
Mayan Blessing Dance
Mayan Thank You to Dr King Jr
Tony McCRAY, Florida NAACP Environmental Justice and Climate Change Committee
Coal plants emit arsenic, lead, other heavy metals, carbon dioxide, and methane. We face increasing number of storms with increasing severity. Dillard University (HBCU) recently held a conference on climate change. Wedgewood and Flint shared the national stage. Wedgewood is surrounded by 11 landfills.
Francine ISHMAEL, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure (CATE)
CATE was founded by her late mother in 1992. Their neighborhood is sandwiched between two Super Fund sites. CATE was responsible for achieving the third largest environmental relocation and first for an African American community. The EPA moved 358 households and later an additional 50-plus households. CATE works with the University of West Florida, Florida A&M University, and the University of Florida at Gainesville.
"Contamination affects everyone. It does not discriminate as to who it affects. If you breathe the air, drink the water, if you have contact with contaminated soil, you will be affected by these chemicals. But the people who are impacted more by the negative effects are the people of color and low income communities with the least resistance and limited resources. And these injustices must stop." Francine Ishmael, executive director, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, Pensacola, Florida
Dr. Gloria HORNING, Communities United in Environmental Justice
The Wedgewood Community is fighting 11 landfills plus a concrete crusher that will send silica into the atmosphere near four schools, plus rattle homes at least one mile away. The county must stop giving permits to dumping grounds. The NW bureau of the Department of Environmental Protection allowed the Rolling Hills dump to operate 8 straight years while having the 17 violations without being fined.
"It doesn't matter what color you are. It's going to impact you. Those landfills are impacting our waterways; its right next to wetlands; and, not enough attention is coming to it. We fight very hard to keep in the front of everyone....We need your help though. We need everyone's help."
"We need your voices, so that these communities that were there first can start to live in a new and clean environment."
Judy COOK, Wedgewood Home Owners Association
"I can't breathe." Has lived in Wedgewood since 1974. You should drive to Wedgewood after a rain. We are just trying to live. Most houses have been paid for. That's why they can't leave. They can't afford to buy another house. Children and adults have sand sores. "We are sick and tired of being sick and tired." "Help us in any way you can."
Judy COOK, sings "Amazing Grace"
Dr. James Scaminaci III, CJ's Street Report
I spoke on behalf of Friends of Perdido Bay, headed by Jackie Lane, as a last minute substitute. She was unable to attend, having missed a connecting flight. My remarks are only a brief summary of the issues this valiant group has fought over and the array of forces aligned against them. However, the Introduction above highlighting key points from the 1999 Special Grand Jury provides an excellent overview.
The October 2015 Friends of Perdido Bay newsletter captures the intersection of how economic power, political power, regulatory capture, and environmental destruction. Essentially, the rigged economic system corrupts the political system and leads to unregulated and unpunished environmental destruction at the expense, in terms of physical health, mental anguish, lost property values, and increased public spending for environmental remediation--the core findings of the 1999 and 2004 Special Grand Jury reports.
Wrote Jackie Lane in October 2015: "While we have had very little success in cleaning up our bay, we can not say we haven’t tried. It is unfortunate that we have had to continue to fight for our bay and our property values when we have environmental agencies which are supposed to do this for us. Both environmental agencies in the states of Florida and Alabama, and the EPA are well aware of the damage the paper mill is causing in our bay. They do nothing because of the influence of money on the political system. Perdido Bay could be a poster child for 'corruption of money' on the political system. More than not doing anything, the environmental agencies have gone out of their way to cover up the damage.... Environmental agencies no longer test for parameters which would show damage to Perdido Bay.... If you don’t look, you don't see the problems. But, the decline is very obvious to residents who have lived on the bay for many years. Environmental regulators have 'no skin' in the game other than their jobs, and their jobs depend on their bosses who depend on the
politicians for funding. That is the way it works."
Marilyn LOWE, Tanyard Neighborhood Association
We lived next door to the sewage plant downtown. There is still a pumping station. It is a serious problem. Our neighborhood has endured this for fifty years, since the 1960s. We can still smell the sewage in our area. When there is a flood, you can see the waste in the area. Residents believe there are still toxins coming out of the ground. People have gotten sick, had cancer, and died. Nobody wants to represent us. We need to send a message to the politicians that they need to listen to us.
"We need someone to care about us instead of pushing it on the back table and making it ok. We need to tell them it is not ok to come into our communities and set these plants here and toxins coming out of the ground and making people sick."
This morning I learned my son has two percent lead in his body. We are sick from environmental pollution.
Ellison BENNETT, National Movement for Human and Civil Rights
All members of the national board walked or worked with Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Anybody who lived in Escambia County and say they did not know this was a problem forty years ago is lying."
Everybody should be compensated for their medical bills, and pain and suffering. We must stand together against the pits and the ECUA regarding the storage tanks on Palafox. ECUA holds meetings at two o'clock knowing that local people cannot attend. The entire ECUA board should resign. They are not serving the people.
"The only way we are going to win this fight is if we stand together."
Mary GUTIERREZ, Earth Ethics/Earth Action, poem
I am from my Father the Sun,
My Mother the Earth, from
them I take only my existence
and because of them I am whole.
I stand barefoot on the ground,
nourishing my senses and my soul,
I am one with the earth.
As the wind blows through my hair,
She speaks to me in the softest of tones.
I must oblige for I am
the land, the water, the air.
We all are.
Yet we have forgotten
that all things are one.
And that each of us is
brother and sister.
There can be no peace when there is injustice.
There can be no love when there is only hate.
There can be no resolution without first conflict.
We must protect what sustains and gives us life.
We must protect each other.
We are strong and courageous,
we always have been and always will be,
it is part of our flesh and bone.
They can never take that away from us.
We are ready to fight to protect
our families, homes, and communities.
Fear us, for the time has come. Fear me.
United we stand to end this legacy of hate and injustice.
We are one and we are taking back what is ours.
Lee PRYOR, Goodbye and Thank You