Dunbar sludge: health, property value and mistreatment concerns

Dunbar residents living near a former toxic sludge site are fearful of what the future holds.

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. An outcry led the city to test the site again in recent months.

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

Fort Myers is expected to hold a meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Dr. Carrie Robinson Event Center on 2990 Edison Avenue. to address concerns and discuss the latest round of test results.

SERIESClick here for complete coverage of Dunbar toxic sludge site

WINK News reporter Michelle Kingston sat down Monday exclusively with two dozen current and past Dunbar residents to hear from those who continue to be directly impacted by the sludge.

Property value concerns

Many residents believe the city plans to take over Dunbar, but they say leaving their homes is not a feasible option.

“It’s unfortunate that we are sitting here today, telling the world that our city wants to take what we have because they failed to protect us,” Curtis Sheard said.

Long-time residents and families feel their homes are now worthless because of the toxic sludge site.

“Who is going to want to buy your home knowing about the sludge site? The City of Fort Myers! And they want to buy them for as dirt cheap, they don’t want to pay anything,” Crystal Johnson said.

Resident Annie Freeman raised all of her children in her home. No matter what the city decides, Freeman and many others say they are firm in their decision about not moving.

“They’re not going to get my house that my dad built. They can find somewhere else to go,” Ricky Rogers said.

“They’ve invested their lives there. Not much more than what they have in their home value which has depreciated, are gone. Their lives are kind of off kilter, not much. Working in rules where can they can go? Where can they buy? They are in a precarious position in that neighborhood right now,” Lewis Robinson said.

Dunbar health problems

Nearby residents who grew up near the site, sometimes using it as a playground, worry they may have been exposed to contamination. Their biggest concern is whether or not the sludge is to blame for their current health issues.

“We cooked in that water, we bathed in that water. That water was pumped from a well in the ground so the source came in our home,” Rosa Williams said.

“We fished out there. We ate the fish. We swimmed out there. We done everything. Made camps out there,” resident Rickey Rogers said. 

Resident Curtis Sheard explained the water he and his neighbors drank years ago had a brown color.

“The water that came out was a brown water. So when you looked in that jug, there was brown stuff at the bottom,” Sheard said. “Please understand, we drank that water. We drank that soil.”

Rogers says three of his daughters have knots on them, almost like lumps he describes as slowly growing in size and sometimes painful.

“They never could tell me what the problem is. It’s been going on for years,” Rogers said.

Other residents shared that they have knots on their bodies too.

“My brother had a lump removed from his throat. My sister had a lump removed from her shoulder and I have a lump today on my arm,” Tambitha Blanks said.

“They don’t know what it’s from. But it’s just ironic that all of us have this symptom or have had this happen to us and we all live in the same neighborhood,” Blanks said.

Black and Veatch Consulting, the company overseeing testing results at the site, stated in a meeting on Jan. 16 that the detected soil arsenic concentrations do not pose a short or long-term health concern to people in the surrounding neighborhood.

In contrary to previous statements, the consulting company also stated there is no evidence that shows the arsenic found inside the toxic sludge made it into the ground water.

More: Arsenic in wells at Dunbar site not caused by toxic sludge

Sludge mistreatment

The City of Fort Myers is expected to address the latest round of test results in Thursday’s meeting. Black and Veatch Consulting claims the city is not responsible for cleanup.

Residents say one of their biggest issues is how they have been mistreated as a community for so many years.

“I feel like the city purposely is damaging our community, is causing this hardship on the community and trying to convince us that we are worthless,” Johnson said.

Over the past few months, a fence has been built around the site. Signs are plastered warning people to keep off the site, a sore sight for people who grew up playing in the area.

“They dumped on us for years and they knew it. And there were children there and they knew it. And there’s nothing they did about that, It’s wrong,” Luetricia Becker said.

Families searching for answers and solutions say they don’t believe any test results from the city.

“No, I don’t believe anything they say. Nothing, and they can’t tell me nothing. What they can tell me is to remove that stuff,” Becker said. 

The big question that remains on the minds of many like Brenda is “Whatcha gonna do to make it right?”