The History of One of the Most Polluted Sites in America


Tyndall Air Force Base along the coast
of Florida’s panhandle is one of the most polluted sites in the country. It’s lined by 60 miles of coastline, home to a sensitive ecosystem. Nearby Panama City Beach is a popular vacation destination. About 160,000 people live in the surrounding area and the base itself is home to 20,000 people, including children. Over the years the Air Force burned explosives in open fields and dumped fuel and chemicals on the grounds. In 1980, the Department of Defense sent a memo to bases like Tyndall, directing them to pursue cleanups and comply with federal environmental laws. For the next 30 years, the Air Force didn’t comply. In fact, the Air Force actively fought
against cleanups. Here’s the proof. In 1986, Florida’s state regulatory agency
expressed serious concern about the environmental problems at the base, writing, “The operators seemed unconcerned to see fuel dripping into the soil.” In 1992, a child on Tyndall’s on-base elementary school found a lead pellet in
the schoolyard. Soil samples just a few feet outside of the school’s fence had lead levels 50 times the EPA’s advisory limit. But after running their own tests,
the Air Force said the soil within the school’s yard was safe. So, in 1995 the EPA conducted its own thorough on-site investigation of hazardous waste and
pollution at Tyndall. the EPA wanted to declare Tyndall a
Superfund site, which would give the EPA and Florida’s environmental officials ultimate authority over its cleanup. But the Air Force refused to cooperate with EPA. 16 years after the first lead pellets were found in 1992, More pellets were found on the base’s elementary US Centers for Disease Control
found that children at Tyndall may have been exposed to lead — which inhibits
brain development — for more than a decade. the Government Accountability Office
wrote in 2010: “Tyndall has delayed cleanup progress by generally demonstrating a pattern of not complying with federal laws.” In 2013, the EPA wrote a final appeal to top officials at the Pentagon. The letter said the Air Force was “unwilling to comply” with federal law and the EPA considered the situation
“extremely serious.” Later that year, more than three decades after the original request to comply with federal environmental laws, the Air Force finally agreed to cooperate with EPA Slow progress has been made at the base since 2013. top soil at the elementary school was removed and the Air Force is collecting soil and water samples at several old firing ranges and dump sites but many of the cleanup projects aren’t close to finished and some have scarcely
begun. The EPA’s project manager at Tyndall said, “Work is delayed.”

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