POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — A proposal for the state to dispose of a load of Philadelphia incinerator ash that was shunned in ports around the Caribbean 15 years ago has been put on hold.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is reevaluating approval given Thursday to Waste Management Inc. to take 3,000 tons of ash off a barge at Stuart and dump it in a landfill.
"I've requested that Waste Management not move forward on this plan just yet, to give us the opportunity to review it further," said Melissa Meeker, director of the DEP's southeast district.
Meeker said tests on the ash by federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture show the ash is neither hazardous nor infectious.
But environmentalists worry that the ash may contain hazardous levels of mercury, lead or other toxins, and residents and city officials said they don't want the ash in their backyard.
"Is it safe? We really don't know," Pompano Beach Mayor William Griffin said. "I think, politically, it's been kicking around for a number of years, from this country to that country. Let them take it back to Philadelphia where they got it."
More than 14,000 tons of ash were produced by an incinerator in Philadelphia in 1985 and loaded on the cargo ship Khian Sea to be taken to a disposal site.
For more than two years, the ship sailed the Caribbean searching for a dump site. Crew members reported being turned away from ports at gunpoint and being threatened with attack by environmentalists.
On New Year's Eve 1987, the ship anchored off Gonaives, Haiti, and the crew started unloading the ash. A few weeks later, permits were revoked and the Khian Sea was ordered out of port.
The ship sailed through the Panama Canal with about 10,000 tons of the ash still on board. By the time it reached Singapore its holds were empty; authorities believed the ash was dumped in the Indian Ocean.
The 3,000 tons on the barge at Stuart is part of what was left in Haiti.
Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach scheduled city commission meetings for Monday to discuss possible court injunctions against the ash disposal. The Broward County Commission agreed to consider the matter Tuesday.
Waste Management hadn't planned to move the ash immediately, company spokesman Don Payne said Friday. "In the interim, of course, we'll work with the Broward officials and answer whatever questions they may have."