A Haunting Past, Pt. 3: The EPA’s Record of Decision

Posted by Henry Taksier, February 8, 2011

The Stephen Foster neighborhood in northwest Gainesville is no ordinary stretch of suburbia. Just before night falls, sunlight passes through a canopy of leaves, illuminating the walls of not-so-perfectly aligned houses. Backyards reveal forests and creeks, invisible to those who drive by on the street.

There’s a sense of community here, rather than socially constructed conformity. The residents can’t be defined by any specific age, race, lifestyle or socioeconomic class. One thing they all have in common is that they’re directly affected by a dirty secret, which publicly emerges every decade or so to make local headlines.

At the core of the neighborhood, there’s a 90-acre toxic wasteland, concealed by bushes and barbed-wire fences, known as the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site. “Superfund site” is a legal term used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to define areas polluted so severely that they pose a health risk to nearby residents and local ecosystems.

Koppers Inc. operated a wood treatment facility in Gainesville since 1916, releasing a wide range of toxins into Gainesville’s air, water and soil. They sold their property in 1988 to Beazer East, a private developer that follows Koppers around the country, absorbing environmental liabilities and allowing them to operate behind closed doors. The area was granted Superfund status 28 years ago.

Due to conflicts of interest between the EPA, Beazer East and neighborhood residents, the site has not been cleaned up yet. No one agrees on the extent of the pollution or what needs to be done about it. The EPA finally released their Record of Decision, which details their plans to clean the site, on Feb. 2.

Will the EPA’s Record of Decision adequately address the needs of the community? Is their plan enough to heal the damage, grief and fear caused by almost a century of highly toxic pollution, or are they trying to cut corners and save money?

Local toxicology experts, such as Joe Prager and Patricia Cline, have expressed skepticism. They’ll surely analyze the Record of Decision – all 703 pages of it – and look for answers between the lines. Public officials and environmental engineers are doing the same…

Read the full story here: http://www.thefineprintuf.org/2011/02/06/a-haunting-past-pt-3/