Tallahassee — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must intervene to close a toxic dump that has been operating illegally for years in Bay County, Florida, according to a petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Friable asbestos, sewage, oil and hazardous chemicals have been improperly dumped at the Big Wheel Construction & Debris Facility but the state, despite knowing the conditions, has not shut down the operation or taken any enforcement action.
Invoking provisions of federal air pollution and hazardous waste laws, the PEER petition demands that the U.S. EPA immediately step in to initiate enforcement action against Big Wheel and ensure protection of public health by sampling the site and removing the most virulent materials buried there.
According to a federal investigation file obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) repeatedly declined to take any enforcement action despite numerous reports from current and former employees of Big Wheel that a wide range of seriously damaging activity was occurring at the facility (pictured right), including:
- Asbestos particles dumped into open air pits. These particles are harmful when inhaled. Illegal aliens without any protective equipment regularly dumped friable asbestos on site. One supervisor, nicknamed “the devil,” kept workers in check by threatening “to call immigration if they complained”;
- Sewage, oil and waste chemicals regularly dumped into pits and storm drains; and
- Bribery of a Bay County government official in order to allow dumping of toxic waste in the Bay County landfill.
In late 2005, the U.S. Air Force barred Big Wheel, Aztec Environmental, Inc., and their affiliates in Bay County from receiving any federal contracts for an indefinite period of time. Aztec recently went out of business but another company has bought the landfill, which continues to operate.
“Big Wheel holds a witch’s brew of nasty chemicals on a site where nothing natural can grow,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting the connection between the site and the local water table. “Since the state has demonstrated that it will not act, the federal government has the authority and the obligation to take control.”
The federal documents also reveal that then-Governor Jeb Bush was a regular passenger on an Aztec jet during the height of illegal activities. The principal figures behind these operations were also prominent political allies of the Governor. Meanwhile, the state DEP supervisors who neglected to act have been promoted, including the new DEP Secretary, Mike Sole, who oversaw DEP regulatory programs. In addition, Mary Jean Yon, who was the District Director of the Northwest District at the time, now serves as the Director of Solid Waste Facilities, placing her in charge of all landfills statewide.
The PEER petition is directed to Jimmy Palmer, the EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta. If Palmer decides not to intervene, PEER can appeal his decision to EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington.