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Groundwater Quality in the Pensacola Bay Area

As we continue our series on environmental quality in the Pensacola Bay system, we now discuss our ground water.


Pensacola is an old, historic town and it has a long history with a working waterfront. Human activities over the course of our history have discharged a variety of products into our local waterways.  Too many of our ancestors, the thought the currents and tides would disperse these contaminants over space, or out to sea.  About 50 years ago, we began to see that some damage had been done – in particular in terms of nutrients, trace metals, and pesticides.  Toxicity tests, and other assessments, have been conducted since the 1950’s but the impact of these discharged chemicals on marine life are not fully understood.  However, the direct discharge of these contaminants has been eliminated, but non-point discharge continues.


In recent years, much has been said about local groundwater contamination due to percolation from waste sites and deep well injections of these chemicals. Contaminated water has entered Bayou’s Texar and Chico, as well as other adjacent waters, from three abandoned hazardous waste sites:

  • The Escambia Treating Company
  • Agrico Chemical Company
  • American Creosote Works

These three properties were listed on the US EPA’s National Priorities List between 1983-1994 as part of the Superfund program. Contaminants from these locations include arsenic, lead, dioxins, PCBs, PAHs, creosote, fluoride, and PCPs.

Drains such as this one, discharge stormwater into local bays and bayous.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Surface clean up at these properties has reduced contamination there, However, contaminants from the Agrico Chemical and Escambia Treating properties on Fairfield Drive are being allowed to naturally attenuate through the sand and earth and will continue to enter Bayou Texar for another 70 years.  Soil and sediment analysis indicate that fluoride concentrations are ten times higher at the point where this contaminated groundwater enters Texar than other sediment samples in the Bayou.  At those same locations, total mercury concentrations are six times higher.


Issues with the contaminants listed above



  • Naturally present in high levels within the groundwater of some countries
  • Highly toxic in its inorganic form
  • Long-term exposure from drinking water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions.
  • Associated with developmental defects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and diabetes.


  • Can effect multiple parts of the body and particularly dangerous to young people
  • Within the body, it is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney, and bones. It is stored in teeth and bone and accumulates over time.
  • Can be released from bone into blood during pregnancy and effect the developing fetus


  • Are a group, or family, of related toxic chemical compounds
  • They found throughout nature and bioaccumulate through the food chain in fatty tissue
  • 90% of our exposure is through food; primarily meat, dairy, fish, and shellfish
  • Highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, interference with hormones, and can cause cancer


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Used in electric, hydraulic, and heat transfer equipment
  • Used as plasticizers in paints, plastic, and rubber products
  • Used in pigments, dyes, and carbonless copy paper
  • Effects the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems of animals
  • The same is possible with humans and includes cancer



  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Associated with burning of fossil fuels and cigarette smoke
  • Naphthalene commercially produced PAH that is used to produce other chemicals and mothballs
  • Large levels of Naphthalene can irritate eyes and nasal passages
  • Contact with vapors or liquids containing high levels of Naphthalene can cause liver and blood abnormalities
  • Can cause cancer



  • Mixture of chemicals that are used for a variety of products – but coal tar creosote used to preserve wood is common
  • Long exposure can irritate lungs
  • Direct contact, or long term exposure to vapors can cause skin irritation, damage to eyes, increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Contact via food or water in high concentrations can cause: burning of mouth and throat, stomach pains
  • Long term exposure can cause skin cancer and cancer of the scrotum



  • There is discussion as to the risk of fluoride
  • Can cause dental fluorosis – white spots in teeth when minor, to pitting and brown coloration in severe cases
  • Bone fractures – some science that suggests this could occur however more studies are needed
  • Can cause cancer – studies have found tumor development in some lab animals exposed to sodium fluoride



  • Pentachlorophenol
  • Used to protect wood from fungal growth
  • Exposure can come from food, drinking water, and from log homes treated with PCPs
  • Has caused cancer in animals, possible with humans




Lewis, M.J., J.T. Kirschenfeld, T. Goodhart. 2016. Environmental Quality of the Pensacola Bay System: Retrospective Review for Future Resource Management and Rehabilitation. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Breeze, FL EPA/600/R-16/169.  Pp. 145.


Fact Sheets:

Arsenic http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs372/en/.

Lead http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/.

Dioxins http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/.

PCPs http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/water-quality/guidelines/chemicals/pentachlorophenol-fs-new.pdf?ua=1.

PAHs https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-03/documents/pahs_factsheet_cdc_2013.pdf.

PCBs https://www.epa.gov/pcbs/learn-about-polychlorinated-biphenyls-pcbs#healtheffects.

Creosote https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/KerrMcGee/docs/Creosote%20Health%20Effects%20(Tronox).pdf

Fluoride https://health.gov/environment/Reviewoffluoride/.

Permanent link to this article: http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2017/10/13/groundwater-quality-in-the-pensacola-bay-area/