FORT MYERS, Fla. A plot of land in the middle of Dunbar where toxic sludge was once dumped sits empty as officials decide what to do with it.
Arsenic was found 10 years ago in the soil of a city-owned area bounded by Henderson Avenue on the west, Midway Avenue on the east, Jeffcott Street on the south and South Street on the north.
No hazardous levels of arsenic remain, nor is there any existing threat to groundwater, the Department of Environmental Protection said, citing recent tests.
But nearby residents who grew up near the site, sometimes using it as a playground, worry they may have been exposed to contamination. And they say no one told them about the threat until now.
“Is this happening in every neighborhood? No. It just seems like the low- to moderate-income black, brown people constantly get the short end of the stick,” Dunbar resident Crystal Johnson said.
Another test on the land isn’t scheduled until September 2018, and in the meantime, the city and the DEP are working to figure out what to do with the land, which sits near homes. It’s unclear what potential uses for the site are under consideration.
The city bought the land in 1962 before homes started going up and used it to dispose of sludge from a water treatment plant.
But even as houses were built and families started moving in, the city says the dumping continued until sometime in the 1980s. A new water plant was built in 1993.
“That’s something I wasn’t aware of happening in my own backyard,” nearby resident Jumar Hillards said.
City Manager Saeed Kazemi released a statement calling it disappointing that past city leaders would continue using the land for dumping even as the neighborhood grew.
“Whatever the garbage and junk, whatever they don’t want, they give to Dunbar,” Johnson said.
Some Dunbar residents shared their reaction with WINK News reporter Kelsey Kushner: