The Florida Health Department issued a health alert around 2:00 pm Tuesday July 22nd as the Wedgewood Community residents wrapped up their participation in a tour of the Solid Waste Operations in Wedgewood off Highway 29 at I-10 by Escambia County Commission Chair Lumon May, and Florida State Representative Mike Hill. The health alert stated in a portion of the text as follows:
Health Alert: Wedgewood Air Quality
Effective immediately, in response to air quality monitoring, the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County (FDOH-Escambia) is issuing a health alert for the area surrounding the Wedgewood Community Center and the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill in Escambia County, Florida.
Air quality monitoring has been performed by Escambia County at the Wedgewood Community Center (6405 Wagner Road, Pensacola). This center is adjacent to the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill located at 6990 Rolling Hills Road, Pensacola. The monitoring has revealed elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide in the air at a minimum level of concern for long term exposure to humans. Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas which often has an odor similar to rotten eggs, but which may have no detectable smell when present in low concentrations. However, even low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas can have negative health effects.
It seemed like poetic justice for the health alert to be issued several hours after the tour. Also on the tour were Florida Department of Environmental Protection Northwest District Director Shawn Hamilton, Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown, Escambia County Solid Waste Operations Manager Pat Johnson, and regional media representatives. The Pensacola Voice representative joined the tour as the Escambia County Area Transit Buses were being boarded and Commissioner May completed an on the air interview with Robert Hill, the owner of Pensacola based WRNE 980 AM and Choice Radio 109 FM Black oriented radio stations.
That interview set the tone for the rest of the morning as Commissioner May and Representative Hill led the group of media and residents at every stop with meeting with the owners discussing the issues of each facility. The rain came down from the Longleaf Solid Waste site (in two locations) to the to the Shortleaf Borrow Pit to the Blossom Trail site to the Rolling Hills Construction and Debris Recycling Center where the thunder and lightning added to the drama of the smell, the mud, the continuous flow of huge dump trucks, and the huge mountain of debris where front-end loaders kept moving garbage to the lower levels of the mound. At the Rolling Hills Center they served mullet and cheese grits as the stench lulled in the air.
Once back at the Marie Young Community Center, Commissioner May was introduced by County Administrator Jack Brown to give his closing statement. “It is not going to be a fast process. We didn’t get here over night. Twenty-five of thirty years of this, we are not going to solve it in twenty-five or thirty days. But my commitment to you is that we’re going to continue to work for clean air, clean soil and clean water, and I won’t rest until every child that grows up in every neighborhood has an opportunity to live in a clean and safe neighborhood!”
State Representative Hill followed Commissioner May with a closing statement of his own that he came to see the firsthand what the conditions were like. He added that as Commissioner May said that they are committed to make sure that the concerns are going to be addressed. “This is not just an exercise just walking around on a field trip. This is to actually see what needs to be done and to take corrective action and I can assure you that we are going to do that.” Three hours later the health alert was issued by the Florida Department of Health.
Wedgewood residents who walked out of the Thursday July 10th Commission meeting after commissioners voted 3-2 to allow the expansion of the Short Leaf borrow pit are preparing to attend the Thursday July 24th Commission Meeting. This will be the first public hearing to once again persuade the commission to vote for a six-month moratorium on the permitting or re-permitting of pits and landfills. This is also the first public hearing since the health alert was issued.