Lawsuit filed against Fort Myers over toxic sludge site

Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:
The area bounded in red shows the site in Dunbar where sludge from a water treatment plant was disposed of.

A lawsuit wants the City of Fort Myers to pay more than $500 million for dumping toxic sludge in the Dunbar community.

The city used a field bounded by Henderson Avenue on the west, Midway Avenue on the east, Jeffcott Street on the south and South Street on the north, to dump sludge for decades in the 1960s.

The area bounded in red shows the site in Dunbar where sludge from a water treatment plant was disposed of.

Arsenic was discovered at the site in 2007, and in the groundwater there in 2012, but those results didn’t become public until early 2017.

The suit filed by Attorney Ralf Brookes lists Deretha Miller, Luetricia Freeman Becker, Ralph Henry, and Noemy Rodriguez as plaintiffs, individually, and on behalf of residents of Dunbar against the city.

“You can’t just open-dump this stuff into pits in the ground, especially when you’re in a residential neighborhood,” Brookes said. “They should have never brought the arsenic here and put it in an open dump without a fence, without a liner, without a licensed landfill.”

The plaintiffs are asking for civil penalties of $37,500 per day for each day of the violation, since 1979 when a law prohibiting open dumping was enacted. Brookes said they want to use the money for remediation and medical monitoring.

The lawsuit will represent more than 200 residents of the Dunbar community living near the toxic site.

SERIESClick here for complete coverage of Dunbar toxic sludge site

“We think it will take millions of dollars to clean up this site appropriately and establish a medical monitoring program to the residents that were affected who were never told they were exposed to arsenic,” Brookes said.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, could take up to two years in federal court, according to Brookes.

The suit alleges in part:

During the 1960s and 1970s, the City pumped water from wells in Lee County near the Dunbar neighborhood for use as drinking water and treated that water with lime to remove contaminants. During part of that time, the City pumped water from the Caloosahatchee River and discharged it onto the surface of the ground at the wells in order to recharge the well field.

The City dumped at least 25,000 cubic yards of sludge on the Dunbar Site over the course of several years, in some places at least ten (10) feet deep.”

It also asks a judge to force the city to clean up the site and aquifer and fund a medical monitoring program for any side effects from the arsenic in the soil.

WINK News reached out to Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson who would not comment on the matter, and City Manager Saeed Kazemi has yet to respond.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story underestimated the requested civil penalties amount in the lawsuit.

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