Meeting held to address NW Jacksonville toxic waste site

Residents angered after attending meeting regarding polluted site

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city is tackling a major health alert affecting hundreds of people living in northwest Jacksonville. Nearly 800 people are living near one of the most polluted sites in America, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Florida Department of Health said residents are safe, but people News4Jax spoke to said they're not buying it.

A meeting was held Thursday night and those residents got a chance to get clear answers.

It started back in 1980 at a business called Fairfax Street Wood Treaters. It used arsenic to treat wood for more than 30 years. The Health Department believed arsenic is still in the soil.

The site has been closed since 2011. Since then, the EPA began cleanup and talked with people in the community.

RELATED: Toxic site near NW Jacksonville elementary school

The city opened up the library for 4 1/2 hours for the meeting, giving anyone who had concerns a chance to share their concerns and get answers, but this only angered the few residents who attended.

John Dent has lived across the street from the old wood treatment plant for 40 years and said he's gone to meeting after meeting, getting the same old answer.

"The only thing that they do at this meeting is they bring pictures of that Wood Treaters place, show houses in the neighborhood and show how far they are. That ain't telling us nothing," Dent said. "I asked them when they were going to tear the building down and they said they didn't know."

That's exactly what happened at Thursday's open house put on by the Florida Department of Health. City Councilwoman Denise Lee said she expected a meeting and an actual status update from the EPA.

"First of all, there's no discussion. There needs to be a presentation to the people," Lee said. "If 200 people showed up here, there are not 200 representatives here to ask questions. The average person can't read these posters. And that's why many residents stormed out of the meeting with nothing more than a pamphlet on chemicals and disappointment."

Randy Merchant with the Health Department helped organize the meeting and said one of the biggest concerns of the 750 residents living in the area is their health.

"We have a draft report that we're soliciting public comment on that basically says that although the site is contaminated there's not a health threat in the nearby neighborhood," said Merchant. "It's up to the environment protection agency to do the soil cleanup. So they will be making an announcement hopefully in the near future as to how they will finish the cleanup here."

The Health Department said it is considering the response from residents and will likely be holding another meeting, this time a thorough presentation in a larger venue.

The date and time for that meeting has not been decided.

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