Jacksonville lawmakers push to help former wood treatment workers exposed to arsenic

Bills filed to compensate former employees of Fairfax Street Wood Treaters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis have filed identical bills in the Florida Legislature calling for $10 million in state money to be used to compensate former workers at Fairfax Street Wood Treaters.

The facility closed in 2011, and the building located on Fairfax Street in Northwest Jacksonville has since been demolished.The Environmental Protection Agency says the plant used arsenic to treat wood for more than 30 years. In fact, it was deemed one of America’s most polluted sites.

News4Jax has covered this story for years, and several of those workers said they were left with health issues including premature heart attacks, high blood pressure, cancer, and physical ailments.

"If you can just imagine being exposed to a deadly, poisonous chemical,” Gibson said. “It touching your skin and going through your clothes." 

Gibson says the majority of the people who worked at this facility and were impacted by this were young, African-American men in the early stages of their careers.

In 2015, News4Jax spoke with Lorenzo Davis and Ernest Lundy, who said they worked at the facility for eight years stacking lumber that was coated with chemicals, unaware those chemicals were toxic.

READ MORE: Toxic area leaving workers, residents sick

"We wore uniforms but then the uniform people wouldn't take the uniforms anymore and we didn't know why but they wouldn't pick them up anymore so we had to take them home and wash them in our clothes," Davis said.

"When I went home at night, I took off my shoes and my feet (were) green," Lundy said. "I thought it was a skin problem like a rash or something and then they asked me about going around chemicals."

Gibson and Davis’ bills each call for $10 million in state money to be used to compensate former employees impacted by long-term exposure to arsenic. The language of the bills state each eligible former employee would be given $100,000.

The bills also call for state and federal organizations to compile data about the former workers' arsenic exposure. Gibson says this is also about sending a message.

"It should put everyone on notice that we have a duty to protect both at the city and the state level," Gibson said.

The 2019 legislative session begins in March.

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