Superfund site concerns lead to a call for the closing of two elementary schools

The EPA plans to clean up the Fairfax Street Wood treaters in Northwest Jacksonville, which sits next to two elementary schools. Fairfax Environmental Committee wants the schools closed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It looks like another abandoned piece of property on Fairfax Street, in fact the only sign of its danger is the bright white sign on the chain-linked fence.

"It is contaminated and kids are crossing it just to get to school," Iris Hinton said.

Hinton and other members of the Fairfax Environmental Committee are concerned about the clean-up status of the Superfund site and its potential impact on the nearby schools.

"I look at it being a battle cleaning the site up," Aerial Flo said.

During 1980 to 2010, Wood Treaters would chemically treat utility poles at this Fairfax Street location.  Aerial Flo worked with the company for eight years.

"No one ever mentioned anything about hazardous chemicals or anything else," he said.
 
Now Flo and Hinton are part of the community action group trying to get the area cleaned up.

"The kids need to be out of those schools ASAP," he said. 
 
Until the site is cleaned up they believe Susie Tolbert elementary and  RV Daniels Elementary should be closed.

"Until someone can tell us that it is safe," Hinton said.
 
The school board has had to closed schools before. In 2001, Mary McLeod Bethune elementary, which is less than a mile from the Fairfax Street location, was closed due to soil contamination.

"We need some real answers,” Hinton said.

In 2011, the EPA removed contaminated soil from Susie Tolbert's playground which is near the fence line of the Superfund site.

"I have five children all of them went to the school over here,” Lawanta Harris said.

Harris lives near the Superfund site. She has been there 48 years and that is where she raised her children and sent them to school.

"All of them are suffering with arthritis, back pain, my grandchildren are going through the same thing," she said.
 
Now the EPA wants to begin testing her property, again, in December. She is not sure if she wants them to do so.

"I just would like to see it all come to an end," Flo said.

The Fairfax Environmental Committee is not satisfied with the clean-up progress, and now its confidence in the safety of the neighborhood schools is shaken.

"I think the schools should have been closed,” Harris said.

 It is an issue that the school board has faced. The schools are in Warren Jones School Board District.

"Until there is additional information," Warren Jones said," I am comfortable with our students' safety." 

Duval County School Board Administrators share the same conviction and provided the following statement:  

"The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff are a top priority for Duval County Public Schools. According to a thorough review by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), there is no danger of exposure to the school. Therefore, at this time, we have no immediate plans to move students and staff. We will continue to maintain communications with the FDEP, Department of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding this issue.  Additionally, in accordance with the FDEP guidelines, we are providing updated information to parents, teachers and staff regarding the cleanup. Parents and residents with concerns about the cleanup of the site are encouraged to contact the FDEP at 1-866-282-0787."

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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