Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to site content



The Escambia Wood-Pensacola hazardous waste site (EWP), also known as the Escambia Treating Company, is in Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida. It is on Palafox Highway about one mile north of Fairfield Drive. The area around the site includes homes, light industries, and businesses. From 1942 to 1982, EWP treated wood poles and timbers. They used two chemicals to treat the wood: creosote and pentachlorophenol. The soil and groundwater on and around the site are contaminated. In 1991, EWP went out of business and abandoned the site. From 1991 to 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dug up contaminated soil and stored it under a secure high density polyethylene cover. During this time, nearby residents complained of odors coming from the site that irritated their eyes and skin and sometimes made it difficult for them to breathe.

Nearby residents believe that contamination released into the air during the excavation work has worsened their health problems. They are worried that breathing these contaminants may cause cancer or make them sick in the future. Residents are also worried that future work at the site will expose them to more hazardous chemicals and cause more health problems.

We focused our public health assessment on the following chemicals: arsenic, benzene, dioxins/furans, pentachlorophenol (PCP), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Former workers at the plant and trespassers on the EWP site may have accidentally eaten contaminated soil or breathed contaminated dust in the air. Arsenic and PCP in this soil or dust may have caused skin irritation. Arsenic and PCP may have also caused liver, kidney, and nervous system damage; and blood-forming and immune system problems. Arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene (a PAH) in the soil or dust may have increased the risk of skin, lung, and blood-forming system (leukemia) cancers. Former workers at the EWP site and site trespassers may be at an increased risk of liver, spleen or adrenal cancer from PCP.

Former workers at the plant, trespassers on the site, and nearby residents may have accidentally eaten soil contaminated by dioxins/furans. They may have also breathed dioxins/furans in contaminated air. The U.S. Public Health Service and EPA are currently reviewing studies on the health effects of these chemicals to estimate their toxicity.

Groundwater under and to the southeast of this site is contaminated and is moving toward the east-southeast. This groundwater has already mixed with contamination from the nearby Agrico Chemical Company hazardous waste site. Contaminated groundwater, however, is unlikely to affect people since there are no public or private drinking water wells in the area.

Based on the information we have, this site is a public health hazard. We recommend EPA maintain site security and put up more hazardous waste warning signs. We also recommend EPA take more surface soil samples in the neighborhood north of the site. This is necessary to find out how much soil contamination exists and how far it extends. We recommend EPA make sure cleanup companies protect their workers from hazardous chemicals. Finally, we recommend that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conduct a comprehensive community health evaluation of residents near the site. This is necessary to find any illnesses that may be connected to hazardous chemicals from this site.


The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (Florida HRS), in cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), will evaluate the public health significance of the Escambia Wood - Pensacola site. Specifically, Florida HRS will determine whether health effects are possible and recommend actions to reduce or prevent them. ATSDR, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to conduct public health assessments at hazardous waste sites.

A. Site Description and History

The Escambia Wood - Pensacola (EWP) site, also known as the Escambia Treating Company site, occupies about 26 acres at 3910 North Palafox Highway, Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida (Figures 1-4, Appendix A). The site is bordered by Palafox Highway to the west, the Rosewood Terrace subdivision to the north, the CSX railroad yard to the east, and a light industrial area to the south. The facility began treating wooden utility poles and foundation pilings with creosote in 1942. The company switched to the use of pentachlorophenol (PCP) for the wood treatment process in 1963 and used it as the only preservative after 1970 (EPA 1991, Weston 1991). The company employed about 35 people (Sparks 1981). After the company ceased operations in 1982, much of the equipment and materials were salvaged from the grounds. The facility office building, several sheds and the wood treatment wastewater ponds remained (Hicks 1988).

In 1987, the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (FDER) (now the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)) found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and PCP in groundwater on the EWP site. These compounds were similar to those found in groundwater at another hazardous waste site (Agrico Chemical Company) less than one mile hydraulically down-gradient from the EWP site (Hicks 1988). In 1991, EWP filed for bankruptcy and abandoned the site. That same year, EPA sampled the groundwater, soil and air at the site and found that soil and groundwater were contaminated with PAHs, PCP, and dioxins/furans (Weston 1991). EPA determined that removal of the contaminated soil was necessary to prevent further contamination of the groundwater. In October 1991, EPA's Environmental Response Team began excavating contaminated soil and stockpiling it on-site under a secure high density polyethylene liner. EPA completed excavation work and secured the site in early 1993.

During the soil excavation, nearby residents complained about strong odors that caused eye and skin irritation. As a result of these complaints, ATSDR held five public meetings to discuss the health concerns of local residents, document health problems, answer questions, and provide information about plans for a health education program and health evaluation study. EPA temporarily relocated two residents because of health problems. Based on the recommendations of a health consultation prepared by ATSDR (ATSDR 1992b), Florida HRS provided a health educator to conduct community education programs to inform residents about health effects from exposure to contaminants at the site. Florida HRS, with support from ATSDR, also conducted four physician education seminars, attended by about 180 physicians, to inform them about the effects of environmental exposure to site-related contaminants.

Although exposure to contaminants in air and soil are also a concern at this site, EPA determined that groundwater contamination alone was a sufficient potential public health threat that cleanup of the site would be necessary. As a result, EPA proposed this site on August 23, 1994 for inclusion in the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. The NPL is maintained by EPA and lists those hazardous waste sites that require cleanup action under the "Superfund" law, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). This Public Health Assessment is being prepared by Florida HRS for ATSDR as part of the Superfund process.

B. Site Visit

Bruce Tuovila, Florida HRS; Robert Merritt, HRS Escambia County Public Health Unit (HRS Escambia CPHU); and the EPA On-Scene Coordinator, toured the site on February 5, 1992. Mr. Tuovila conducted additional site visits on July 16, 1992 and April 22, 1993 to observe on-going activities.

The site is surrounded by an 8-foot high chain link fence topped by barbed wire. EPA replaced this with sheet metal privacy fencing on the north, east and south sides following completion of excavation work in 1993. A sign facing Palafox Highway identifies the property as an EPA Superfund site. The number and location of warning signs is inadequate to warn the public about the hazards at this site and to meet the requirements of sections 403.704 and 403.7255, Florida Statutes, and FDEP Rule 17-736.

All the original structures on the site, except the office building, have been removed. Two large excavation pits containing standing water are in the central and northeastern portions of the site (Figure 4, Appendix A). Although an attempt has been made to stabilize the sides of the excavation pits with a grass groundcover, erosion is still occurring. EPA stockpiled all excavated material in one extended pile and covered this material with a 60 mil thick (about 1/16 inch) reinforced high density polyethylene plastic liner material. Seams in the material were heat sealed and the liner anchored at the base of the pile in gravel-filled drainage ditches. The remainder of the site is sparsely vegetated.

During the February site visit, we conducted a drive-through tour of the neighborhood north of the site, we observed that the homes along Lansdowne Avenue abut the site. One home near the east end of Lansdowne Avenue is abandoned. Most of the other homes, however, are well-maintained. There is a storm water impoundment pond at the east end of Lansdowne Avenue and a drum refurbishing/painting company along Spruce Street. We noticed a strong, irritating solvent odor near the drum company property. The CSX Railroad yard runs along the east side of the site and Palafox Highway borders the site on the west. To the south are various light industrial businesses and a large warehouse under construction. Mr. Merritt indicated there are no public or private drinking water wells within a one mile radius of the site. All homes and businesses in the area are supplied by city water.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


According to 1990 census data (BOC 1992), about 925 people live within a one-quarter mile radius of the site and about 4,500 people live within one mile. The neighborhoods around the site are low to lower-middle income. The population within one-quarter mile is 99% African-American. Within one mile, the population is about 71% African-American. There are five daycare centers, one hospital and three public schools within one mile of the site.

Land Use

The area within one mile of the site is mixed residential/light industrial/commercial. There is an industrial park south of the site, the CSX railroad yard to the east, and commercial businesses along Palafox Highway on the west. Rosewood Terrace, a residential neighborhood, is adjacent to the northern border of the site, and the Escambia Arms apartment complex, a public housing project, is within one-quarter mile north of the site. The Agrico Chemical Company Superfund site is about two-thirds of a mile to the southeast.

Natural Resource Use

The main source of drinking water for Pensacola and Escambia County is the Sand-and-Gravel aquifer. This aquifer begins at a depth of 40-50 feet and consists of two water-bearing zones separated by clay or sandy clay layers. The upper zone extends from about 50 to 150 feet below land surface (BLS) and the lower zone from about 150 to 250 feet BLS. The lower zone provides most of the drinking water for the Pensacola area. There is a downward hydraulic gradient between the upper and lower zones of the aquifer, indicating that contamination from the upper zone can migrate into the lower zone. Although regional groundwater flow in this aquifer is southward, groundwater flow near the site is more toward the southeast (Hicks 1988).

There are fourteen public supply wells and six private wells within three miles of the EWP site (Geraghty & Miller 1992, Hankinson 1987). A groundwater contamination plume extends east-southeast from the EWP site and has joined with a groundwater contamination plume from the nearby Agrico Chemical Company site. This contamination is moving toward Bayou Texar, an environmentally sensitive estuary about two miles east-southeast of the site. No public or private wells are within this contamination plume (Chatham 1988, Geraghty & Miller 1992) and all households within this area use public water for drinking and other domestic purposes. Except for small backyard gardens, there is no agricultural use of the land within one mile of the site.

D. Health Outcome Data

Guided by community health concerns, HRS epidemiologists reviewed information contained in the Florida Cancer Data System (FCDS). FCDS is a program of Florida HRS operated by the University of Miami School of Medicine and covers all cancers reported in Florida between 1981 and 1990, the most recent year for which information is available. Cancer registry information was available for zip codes 32503 and 32505. These zip codes include neighborhoods around the Escambia Wood - Pensacola site. We will discuss the results of this review in the Public Health Implications, Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.


Residents of Rosewood Terrace, which borders the site, and the nearby neighborhoods of Oak Park, Goulding, and Escambia Arms have expressed a number of health concerns. We compiled these concerns from public meetings, telephone conversations with community members, newspaper articles, local health officials, and EPA reports. These concerns are addressed in the Public Health Implications, Community Health Concerns Evaluation section.

Community members have expressed the following health concerns:

1.    Can any of the contaminants at the site cause non-cancerous health effects such as respiratory problems (i.e., asthma), itching and burning eyes, skin rashes, sinus problems, thyroid problems, heart murmurs, bladder stones, or tuberculosis?

2.    Can any of the contaminants at the site cause emphysema, leukemia, bone cancer, colon cancer, or spinal cancer?

3.    Dioxins/furans, pentachlorophenol, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found on the site. What health effects could result from exposure to these contaminants?

4.    What contaminants cause the strong, burning odor coming from the site and what health effects could result from exposure to them?

5.    What contaminants have migrated from the site to residential yards and what health effects may result from exposure to them?

6.    Can any of the contaminants that may have migrated from the site to residential yards get into fruits and vegetables grown in that soil and what health effects could occur from eating them?

7.    Could small game (i.e., rabbit, quail, squirrel, etc.) hunted in the past near the site have been contaminated and what health effects are likely from having eaten them?

8.    Can benzene from the site get into the public water supply system?

9.    Can the stressful situation experienced by residents near the site cause mental health problems in these individuals?

10.    If soil incineration is chosen as the method for cleaning up the site, what effect will this have on the air quality and what monitoring will be done to check for contamination coming from the site?

In addition to health concerns, residents near the site have raised the issue of environmental equity/justice. They feel that they have been treated unfairly by the agencies involved with the site since work began there because the members of the community are a racial minority.

Next Section      Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

A-Z Index

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #