EPA unveils cleanup plan for Fairfax Wood Treaters Site

NW Jacksonville site deemed one of the most toxic in America, EPA says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled a plan to clean up the Fairfax Street Wood Treaters plant area in Northwest Jacksonville.

It's one of the most polluted sites in America, according to the EPA. 

The plant was closed in 2010 and has been sitting idle for the last seven years. During that time, residents and former employees of the facility have been trying to have their voices heard by the city and the EPA. 

Residents said the contaminants used at the plant affect the soil and water, causing people to get sick. The EPA has acknowledged that arsenic, chromium and copper were the main contaminants of concern.

The EPA held a public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the proposed cleanup plan, but many residents told News4Jax on Wednesday that they didn't even know about it. 

"It's been like that for two years. We haven't heard anything. They haven't done anything," said Ed Griggs, who has lived near Fairfax Street for decades. 

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News4Jax first met Griggs two years ago. That's when he introduced News4Jax to two former employees, who shared their disturbing stories about their time working at the Fairfax Street Wood Treaters plant, which used arsenic to clean wood for 30 years.

"When I went home at night, I took off my shoes and my feet (were) green," Ernest Lundy, who worked at the facility for eight years, told News4Jax in 2015. "I thought it was a skin problem, like a rash or something, and then they asked me about going around chemicals."

But even though the facility was closed, the contaminants still remained, causing the EPA to test the soil and initiate cleanup. 

The EPA, along with the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Environmental Protection, recently revealed a final cleanup plan for the site: Selected excavation, off-site treatment and disposal.

READ: Fairfax Street Wood Treaters Site proposed plan summary

The remedy will lower the risk of people being exposed to existing contaminants, according to the EPA. 

But residents, including Carronto Robertson, are still concerned. 

"If they would bring supermarkets up there people wouldn't be able to shop up there because everyone would probably be sick," said Robertson, who has lived in the area for 41 years. "The stuff is in the ground."

If and when the cleanup occurs, Griggs said, the EPA or the city sill owes residents one thing: The truth. 

"Because they kept saying it's nothing dangerous but I have said, when you saw two years ago they were cleaning up with hazmat suits on, if it's nothing and (it's) not dangerous, then why do you have suits on?" Griggs said.

The public comment period runs through May 31. You may email your comments to Lattimore.Leigh@epa.gov or, if you prefer to submit written comments, mail them, postmarked no later than May 31, to Leigh Lattimore, at US EPA, 61 Forsyth Street, 11th floor, Atlanta, GA 30303.

The EPA will then decide how to move forward, but no date has been set for when the cleanup will begin.