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For Immediate Release: May 26, 2004
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PANAMA CITY ASBESTOS VIOLATIONS IGNORED

Complaints of Airborne Asbestos, Illegal Dumping and Unlicensed Operations


Washington, DC -- Ignoring its own inspection reports, citizen complaints and warnings from the county, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has yet to take action on airborne asbestos and illegal disposal practices at the Big Wheel Construction & Debris operation in Bay County, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER today filed asbestos enforcement complaints with both the United States, Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Jacksonville, Florida, and the DEP headquarters.

Inhalation of asbestos fibers is linked with incurable respiratory diseases. DEP inspection reports released by PEER indicate that the Big Wheel facility has been crushing asbestos debris, sending fibers into the air. The Big Wheel facility is not licensed for asbestos disposal, according to state regulations. Meanwhile, employees and members of the public were not warned to wear protective respiratory equipment on the site.

"Not only is DEP asleep at the switch but they appear to be taking sleeping pills so that they stay asleep," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for DEP who has been investigating the agency's enforcement policies and performance for the past year. Last week Florida PEER released a report document groundwater contamination at the Big Wheel dump that echoes the findings of a grand jury report in nearby Escambia County finding persistent water pollution problems due to DEP non-enforcement. Both Escambia and Bay Counties are supposed to be overseen by the same DEP District Office, based in Pensacola.

Repeated DEP inspections dating back to September 2002 reported asbestos violations but the agency has taken no remedial or enforcement action. In addition, DEP has not followed up citizen complaints about illegal dumping at Big Wheel nor did it heed warnings from the Bay County about improper disposal of hazardous materials.

"Big Wheel is a case study in environmental malpractice by the DEP," Phillips added. "In the case of asbestos, this is not only a pollution violation, it is a public health danger."

Bay County is one of Florida's emerging tourist destinations, home to some of the state's most beautiful and pristine beaches. Its growing population swells each year as tens of thousands of collegians flock to Bay County for spring break.

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Read the PEER report on asbestos violations at Big Wheel

See the PEER enforcement complaint to OSHS

Look at the PEER letter to DEP Headquarters

View summary of the DEP enforcement file on water contamination at Big Wheel

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