DEP blasts Fort Myers over handling of Dunbar sludge tests

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

FORT MYERS, Fla. The city is drawing sharp criticism from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over its handling of test results on the Dunbar sludge site.

A letter dated Tuesday from DEP Director of District Management Jon M. Inglehart to City Manager Saaed Kazemi takes the city to task for failing to release results from testing that showed elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater at the site.

“The Department cannot emphasize enough the importance of reaching out to area residents to keep them informed of the ongoing assessment work, provide additional opportunity for public input and determine the eventual post clean-up use of the site,” Inglehart wrote.

MORE: NAACP: Lack of action on Dunbar sludge site is ‘environmental racism’

The city initially said the results, which showed levels of arsenic above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard drinking levels in four out of six wells tested, were inconclusive. But one of the wells had five times the allowable amount of arsenic.

“… The site assessment and cleanup have lost a sense of transparency, both with the Department and the community at large,” Inglehart wrote.

Kazemi said Wednesday afternoon that he’s still trying to figure out the root of miscommunication between his staff and the DEP, but he disputes the idea the city is trying to hide the findings.

MORE: Ex-Fort Myers employee says Dunbar dump site is safe

City officials haven’t sent the results from the tests to the DEP, Inglehart wrote, even though the city has had them for two weeks now.

But Kazemi said he’s been waiting for the results, which are preliminary, to be certified. Kazemi also said he’s waiting on a consultant, whom he didn’t name, to review the results.

“I’m committed. I owe it to the people in that area to give them the right, accurate number,” Kazemi said. “Not piecemeal it. Not inaccurate, not uncertified.”

The city has drawn extensive public criticism over its handling of the site since the revelation earlier this year that arsenic was found on the site in 2007, decades after the dumping ended. Nearby residents have angrily denounced city leaders.

“They need to let us know,” South Street resident Luetricia Becker said. “Let us have a chance in life too. They ain’t giving this people in this community a chance at life. Because if you don’t tell these people what’s going on, there’s no telling what that stuff can do.”

Attorney Ralf Brookes, who’s representing residents who’ve threatened legal action, compared the situation to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water.

“We’re gonna try to get this site cleaned up,” Brookes said. “We’re gonna use federal laws to assure the city cleans this mud up, and remediates it, and gets the sludge out of there.”

See Inglehart’s letter below:

Watch the full interview:

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