TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It’s a troubling claim— a recently released report from ProPublica.org is pointing the finger at Tyndall Air Force Base for decades of procrastination involving pollution at more than 100 sites.
One includes the base’s elementary school.
Years before it was an Air Force base, part of Tyndall’s property was used as an Army Gunnery School for World War II training, using lead-based ammunition. Years later, lead shot littered what is now the school grounds.
Amy Mason taught at the school for 33 years. She says students used to find the pellets outside.
"Kids would find them everywhere, they would play with them,” Mason said. “We didn't have any idea what they were.”
Tyndall spearheaded several clean-up efforts, most recently in 2015 and 2016, but Environmental Protection Agency Project Manager Robert Pope says work is stalled.
"Right now the Air Force is in a contract dispute with one of their major investigation and clean-up contractors,” Pope said.
Tyndall’s remedial project manager, Joseph McLernan, says it’s in negotiations.
“The contractors were saying, 'Wait a minute, we can't finish these, you're asking too much,'” McLernan said.
Another site is along the northern part of the base, at an area called Shoal Bayou. The concern lies with the threat of an insecticide called DDT.
"This is DDT in sediment, and it's still there,” Pope said. “A lot of it is trapped in the marsh grass, we don't have a big concern it's migrating away but it's not been addressed, it’s not been removed completely.”
"We've done testing along there that shows that most of it is sediment that's settled,” McLernan said. “We need to go ahead and protect that and take care of that.”
Throughout the 90s, the EPA was trying to get Tyndall listed as a hazardous site that posed a risk to people or the environment, also called a Superfund site. On-site findings made the base a prime candidate for the listing, but the base pushed back and a game of tug-of-war ensued.
"Tyndall was one of two facilities at the time that the EPA had put on the national priorities list and they were not willing at the time to sign up to this agreement,” Pope said.
We asked McLernan why.
“I think that there was a thought that we've got a program, and we're working under it, and that there was fear that it would slow things down, or it would change things,” he said.
The disagreement ended in 2013, when the base signed into a Federal Facilities Agreement with the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It created rules and schedules for cleanup actions.
But the question remains; is there a concern?
"There's always a concern, this is where we live too,” McLernan said. “But there's been a good communication, a good look at it from a scientific standpoint, and providing that accurate information that shows there's not an immediate risk.”
It’s a feeling Pope echoes.
"We don't see information that shows us people who live around Tyndall Air Force base were highly impacted,” he said.
At this time, 30 sites are still in the process of evaluation. One has been completed. Nine, including the school, have decisions proposed. There are 80 other sites of a smaller priority that will be looked at together.