Depot Avenue is currently under construction. Residents are sure to have noticed – because with every car that drives by a cloud of dust follows.
Layers of dust line the barricades and street signs.
“There’s basically dust everywhere,” said Lee Edwards, a resident of Royal Village, which is located directly next to the construction area. “It’s hard to avoid.”
Julia Gress, a University of Florida soil and water science researcher, said the dust could potentially pose adverse health effects.
Having lived in Gainesville for over 20 years, Gress said that whenever she drove through Depot Avenue she would notice dust rolling into nearby neighborhoods and apartment complexes.
“I decided to take some preliminary soil samples,” she said. “I can say, based on the results that I found, the neighborhood soil has clearly been enriched by contaminants.”
The construction on Depot Avenue is directly adjacent to a cement plant. The concern for Gress is the impact of cement dust on the surrounding area.
“The dust has been enriched by contaminants from the cement plant,” Gress said. “I believe this requires further investigation. Many caustic elements are present in cement dust.”
Russ Blackburn, Gainesville’s city manager, said the city’s been working on this project to reconstruct Depot Avenue for years to put in a bypass, put in sidewalks, put in a new road surface and put in roundabouts at major intersections.
Blackburn said the section the city’s Public Works Department is currently working on spans from Main Street to P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.
Gress said respiratory illness is a concern. Any type of lung disease is worsened by exposure to this type of dust. Any time someone opens a window or door, the dust is getting carried inside.
“I think it’s important that the city figure out whether this is a serious issue as quickly as possible,” Edwards said. “Right now the dust is really just an inconvenience. But if it’s harmful, that’s something that needs to be taken care of.”
Gress said that because the construction is located next to a low-income area, an element of environmental justice should be considered.
“The two ways the city should approach this are to move this type of activity away from populated areas or to get a full-scale study, which will show that enrichment could be potentially leading to problems,” she said.
Blackburn said there wasn’t enough evidence for an immediate concern.
“At this point, we don’t have enough information that’s clearly verified from multiple sources to say that we should do anything differently,” he said. “We’ve referred this issue to the Alachua Department of Environmental Protection, and they will determine if there’s enough information that they should consider investigation.”
Blackburn said that the city needs extensive soil samplings over a period of time in a number of areas to determine if there are actual health concerns.
“Ultimately there shouldn’t be any issues that would be of concern to folks other than just the inconvenience of dust you have during construction,” he said. “The nature of building a road causes disruption.”
In the meantime, Blackburn said, people can avoid the problems from the dust by keeping windows closed, dusting their homes and trying not to stir up dust outside when it’s dry.
Editors note: This story has been updated from a previous version that alluded the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency was overseeing the Depot Avenue road construction project. The road construction project is managed by the city’s Public Works Department. The CRA is handling the Depot Park construction project, which is occurring simultaneously, but separately.