First, segregation blocked this Florida community from equal education and other public goods. Then the military–industrial complex sickened residents and destroyed their property.
February 3, 2021
Feb 3, 2021
25 Min read time
First, segregation blocked this Florida community from equal education and other public goods. Then the military–industrial complex sickened residents and destroyed their property.
Tallevast, Florida, is a predominantly Black, unincorporated community between Manatee and Sarasota Counties. If anyone outside of the area knows of the town of fewer than eighty homes spread across two square miles, it is likely because, about twenty years ago, its groundwater was discovered to have been poisoned by the manufacture of weapons-grade beryllium during the Cold War.
Environmental racism is global, but it is particularly common to Black communities in the U.S. South, where state authorities tend to allow more latitude to industrial polluters.
The plot will sound familiar: a polluting industry, privately owned but authorized by the state, is placed near Black homes, fouls the natural resources, and causes irreversible harm to the community’s health. Environmental racism is global, but it is particularly common to Black communities in the U.S. South, where state authorities tend to allow more latitude to industrial polluters. Consider Warren County, North Carolina, where a dump for the neurotoxin PCB was sited adjacent to the homes of poor Blacks. Or Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where petrochemical production has devastated dozens of Black communities along the banks of the Mississippi. Such occurrences extend the timeframe of plantation-like mechanisms of control and dispossession. Of course, it’s not only in the South. Change a couple key details and you have Flint, Michigan, or Secunda, South Africa.
In 1996 the defunct Loral American Beryllium Company (ABC) was purchased by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor and the top employer of Florida’s industrial workforce. The acquisition extended Lockheed’s already notable presence in Florida, which has been continuous since 1956 when, as Martin Marietta, it established a missile plant in Orlando. Once it procured ABC, Lockheed worked with Florida governmental agencies to hide ABC’s sins from Tallevast residents. The collusion is documented in over 1,800 documents held in Florida’s public environmental records database. By combing through these records—which include memos, interoffice emails, meeting minutes, and environmental assessments—we have been able to reconstruct the story of how, between 2000 and 2004, corporate and state actors knowingly withheld information from Tallevast residents about the contamination in their community.
• • •
A barren patch of land on Tallevast’s main road still marks where the ABC plant stood. Across the street is the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), which increasingly welcomes sports stars traveling to IMG Academy, recent host of the WNBA’s COVID bubble. On the other side of SRQ lie the Ringling Museum of Art and New College of Florida, the state’s prestigious liberal arts institution. At Tallevast’s boundaries are an office park for the pretzel maker Snyder’s of Hanover and Suncoast Golf Center, a three par golf course, where on any given day elderly white men practice their midrange strokes.
Before Sarasota’s postindustrial commercial sprawl began squeezing the life from it, Tallevast possessed a vitality of southern Blackness. On Fridays and Saturdays, the smell of barbequed meat from grills on front lawns wafted through the air and the energy of youth reverberated in the streets—competitive pickup basketball games on outdoor courts, motorized bikes roaring on pavement. And on Sundays, Baptist, Methodist, and Holiness churches gathered to worship and remember how far they had come. After praise services, at least in earlier generations, residents would reconvene for picnics on the turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay, just over a mile away.
When a small industrial plant for engineering metals was built in the center of Tallevast in 1957, residents hoped it would bring jobs and development. Four years later, it became focused on beryllium.
Mrs. Helen Heathington spoke of Tallevast’s golden days at a January 2019 community meeting. Then ninety-three, making her the oldest living member of the community, she was part of the third generation of Tallevast residents, a grandchild of one of the founding families who had migrated to the small town when it was a labor camp for the Tallevast family’s turpentine business. Educated in Manatee County schools, Heathington then earned a degree in nursing from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) before entering the United States Air Force. After being stationed all over the world, she returned to Tallevast in the 1970s with her husband, Clifford, to raise their three children, so that the community could help instill in them the values it had given her. “It was a place you could raise your children without too much worry,” she would often tell young people during community meetings, “because you knew there was always someone watching them. . . . Most of the people . . . all worked hard to keep their children in school and send them off to college for a better life.”
In the early days, residents of Tallevast were subject both to Jim Crow racism and geographic discrimination. Heathington told of how Manatee County would not even provide Tallevast’s students with transportation to the county’s one segregated Black high school. Instead, Mr. Ulysses “Rip” Ward, who operated a group of day laborers, would drive the students to school in Palmetto, thirty minutes away. The vehicle, an “old bread truck” with benches nailed in the back, would break down periodically and make the students late for school. If the students arrived late for morning assembly, the principal would stop mid-sentence and say, “And here comes Tallevast!” Tallevast children were not only humiliated by their inferior mode of school transportation, but also by how their principal repeatedly brought attention to it in a way that reinforced beliefs about the rural community’s lack of decorum and intelligence.
Despite general neglect—Tallevast was one of the last towns in Manatee County to receive street lights, paved roads, telephone lines, and sidewalks—for at least two generations the community’s young people went to college at a higher rate than students in other Manatee County districts. Heathington and her sister Mrs. Lillian Granderson were among Tallevast’s first residents to finish a four-year degree. After them, Tallevast would send four or five young people to college each year. As in many Black communities, education was seen as a salvation, a catalyst for the community’s growth. Elders hoped their children would acquire knowledge and bring it back to Tallevast for its continued evolution.
When Visioneering, a small industrial plant for engineering metals, was built in the center of Tallevast in 1957, residents hoped it would bring jobs and development. Four years later, Visioneering’s machining became focused on beryllium, and the company changed its name to American Beryllium Company (ABC). Beryllium is a metal used for missiles, rockets, and nuclear reactors because of its lightness, strength, and capacities to conduct electricity at high temperatures. Because the machining of beryllium generates toxic dust and requires organic solvents for cleaning, a system was installed to mitigate the dangers, including subsurface sumps to collect wastewater and a 9,000-square-foot artificial evaporation pond to hold effluent.
While all ABC workers were likely exposed to beryllium levels that exceeded legal limits, its custodial workers, some of whom were Tallevast residents, were more likely than others to contract berylliosis (chronic pulmonary granulomatosis), a chronic and incurable disease that scars lung tissue, shortening the breath and stressing the heart. One resident, Mr. Charles Ziegler, contracted berylliosis from working as a janitor at ABC for over twenty years. Before ABC, he was an independent roofer, but switched to ABC because it paid much better, providing him a wage of between $15 and $17 an hour. As an ABC custodian, Ziegler vacuumed beryllium dust from the tables holding machining equipment, filtered the dust into bags, and transported the bags to bathhouses where he dumped the dust into a drum. After capping the drums, he washed the bags and then shipped them off site for recycling or further disposal. “I liked the work at American Beryllium,” he told a focus group of former ABC employees in 2012. “The work wasn’t hard, not hard at all. They didn’t push you too hard. . . . [But I] didn’t know anything about beryllium—[it was] no different [to me] than a grain of sand.”
Beryllium dust would seep out from the bags and spill from capped drums. All ABC workers were likely exposed to beryllium levels that exceeded legal limits.
Ziegler had little control over the “charcoal-like” beryllium dust. It would seep out from the bags and spill from capped drums. “It didn’t make any difference how you did it,” he explained to his colleagues during the 2012 focus group, “the dust would escape because it was so light.” Other employees would wash the bathhouses that contained the drums of beryllium, which would then disperse the dust into the community. Ziegler held a clear memory of this: “Do you know where all that stuff went to? On the road, see? . . . They’ll never get rid of all of it. And I guarantee . . . if you would . . . tear it down, you could go over there, and I bet you’ll find some beryllium.” Ziegler lived across the street from the facility and would bring the dust home with him: “Yeah, you take it home. Take it home in my clothes.” Ziegler’s wife, Beatrice, and her brother, Leroy Mazon, who lived with them, also developed berylliosis.
Despite the risks of beryllium machining, Manatee County officials reported in 1992 that ABC was not considered an “environmentally regulated site.” But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) consistently monitored ABC, conducting at least seven inspections between 1982 and 1995. And even with knowledge of the dangers of beryllium dust, FDEP did not monitor its aerial dispersal as strongly because ABC drummed and shipped it for recycling to Brush-Wellman, Inc., the country’s largest beryllium supplier, in Ohio.
Nonetheless, the dangers of beryllium dust had been documented since at least the 1940s, and even more specifically at the ABC facility in the mid-1980s by Dr. Lee Newman, then head of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Services at National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Newman found that there were no barriers between the machinery and the front office at ABC, and its lathes and grinding machines were not confined to individual rooms as at other plants, increasing laborers’ risk of exposure to beryllium dust.
Of greater concern to FDEP in its multiple inspections was the forty types of organic solvents used to degrease products and mill instruments during the daily operations. This liquid waste was funneled through floor drains and into sumps, each up to 105 cubic feet in size, about the size of a compact car. For years, FDEP inspections vouched that solvent waste was being drummed and shipped to off-site chemical waste facilities. But in fact, much of the waste was simply remaining in on-site storage tanks.
In 1996 Lockheed Martin acquired ABC when it purchased the Loral Corporation. The following year, Lockheed hired Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting firm, to conduct environmental and facility assessments to prepare the property for sale. Tetra Tech initially found that the site was in compliance with all state environmental regulations. After cleanup target levels for soil and groundwater contamination changed in 1999, however, Tetra Tech was forced to revise its reporting. On January 20, 2000, Tetra Tech and Lockheed disclosed to the Manatee County Environmental Action Commission that petroleum levels in soil exceeded the new standards. In a separate letter sent to the same agency eight days later, they then disclosed that groundwater had been contaminated with organic solvents and metals from “an unidentified source.”
The facility assessment report that Tetra Tech had conducted in 1997, which initially held ABC in compliance with target levels, actually revealed that sumps contained solvents and that on-site storage containers were full of solvent waste. Lockheed Martin reported the contamination in 2000, but it is unclear when the company first realized that waste storage containers were leaking solvent- and metal-tarnished wastewater into the soil and groundwater. During these interagency exchanges about the deadly toxins flowing beneath Tallevast, no one in the community was notified.
During interagency exchanges about the deadly toxins flowing beneath Tallevast, no one in the community was notified. No one told residents that the water beneath them had been poisoned.
Of all the solvents that ended up poisoning the groundwater, the one that caused the most concern was trichloroethylene (TCE). For much of the twentieth century, TCE was common in dry cleaning, as an anesthetic, and as an industrial cleaner. The pervasiveness of TCE meant that exposure to the chemical was widespread. The health impacts of TCE exposure have been known since at least 1915, but epidemiological studies conducted in the 1950s revealed that sustained exposure to TCE is linked to a variety of psychological disorders and significantly higher risks of kidney cancer, liver cancer, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. In 1977 the federal government listed TCE as a priority pollutant in the Clean Water Act; in 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified TCE as a serious threat to drinking water, establishing a maximum allowable concentration of 5 micrograms per liter (ug/L) of drinking water.
Tetra Tech published a Contamination Assessment Report for ABC in April 2001. Organic solvents were found in thirteen monitoring wells on the ABC site. The highest reported level of TCE was 1,500 ug/L—300 times the EPA’s maximum contaminant level. Tetra Tech concluded that organic solvents “may be migrating off-site” and created an illustration that displayed the known extent of organic solvents exceeding groundwater cleanup criteria. Question marks traced the northern and eastern borders of the property, each one signifying that contaminants may have dispersed into the community.
Nearly a year later, on March 5, 2002, Lockheed Martin and Tetra Tech informed the FDEP of what had been discovered the previous year. Organic solvents “are migrating off-site,” the report states, and further investigation would be needed to determine the extent of contamination. In its “Interim Data Report and Contamination Assessment Plan Addendum #2,” published on September 13, 2002, Tetra Tech provided analytical results from the sampling of twenty-three on- and off-site wells. TCE was detected at concentrations above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level in fifteen of them. The highest reported level of TCE was 4,300 ug/L—860 times the federal standard.
In Tetra Tech’s “Final Contamination Assessment Report” released in May 2003, a figure illustrates a menacing plume of TCE beneath fourteen homes in Tallevast. But no one told residents that the water beneath them had been poisoned. Conservative estimates of hydraulic conductivity, or the speed that groundwater can be transmitted through soil, indicate that it would have taken four decades for the plume to achieve its size on the 2003 map. It appears that ABC was actively contaminating the groundwater from the start of its operations in 1962.
• • •
Just as systemic racism delayed the arrival of basic amenities to Tallevast, residents were brought to municipal water unevenly. Shortly after ABC installed one of its first on-site monitoring wells in 1985 to detect potential contamination on its own premises, Manatee County received a Housing and Urban Development Community Block Development Grant of $1 million to install water and sewer lines in Tallevast. When the funds were exhausted, many community members still had no municipal water, which put them in direct contact with toxins leaking from ABC. The prevalence of wells was common knowledge in the community, but it took state and local agencies two years after Lockheed first divulged the contamination to FDEP to even consider identifying them.
Tallevast’s Black residents, and the homes in which they lived, were not deemed worth the effort to fulfill the agency’s mission to protect the public.
At a March 5, 2002, meeting of representatives from FDEP, Lockheed Martin, and Tetra Tech, the assembled determined: “A private well search needs to be conducted. . . . [P]roperty owners and tenants may also need to be contacted via phone or letter. FDEP will contact the Department of Health regarding permitted wells in the surrounding area.” But instead of contacting the Manatee County Department of Health, FDEP waste cleanup supervisor Michael Gonsalves sent FDEP environmental specialist Kimberly Brooks to Tallevast to look for wells on March 26, 2002. The following day, she emailed Gonsalves to report that she had been to Tallevast and spotted a number of wells, but that her search had been limited because she had at no point exited her car. She wrote that she found Tallevast “very unkempt (to put it mildly).” Brooks then sent a number of emails to Andy Reich, environmental manager of the Florida Department of Health’s Drinking Water Toxics Program, to ask for assistance. Reich in turn dispatched Tom Larkin of the Manatee County Department of Health to search for wells. In an email dated August 7, 2002, Reich shared an image of the area of suspected wells, offered his contacts to support the search, and expressed gratitude to Larkin for his assistance. It remains unknown what Larkin found.
In its May 2003 Final Contamination Assessment Report, Tetra Tech writes that “no private wells are being used . . . in the vicinity of the site.” The FDEP did not dispute this assertion, despite knowing that Brooks’s survey, cursory as it may have been, had identified multiple wells. Yet Tetra Tech’s insistence that there were no private wells in Tallevast enabled them to claim, with the FDEP’s endorsement, that residents were not exposed to contaminated groundwater, and so they did not need to be informed about the toxic plume beneath their homes.
The March 5, 2002, meeting also occasioned a debate about where to install monitoring wells for delineating the extent of the contamination. Tetra Tech indicated that these wells would “be completed within the public right-of-way or on private residences,” but Gonsalves advised that it would be more efficient to install wells on public property. While the decision on where to place monitoring wells was internally framed as a “private” versus “public” matter, the conversation, much like Brooks’s disparaging description of Tallevast, was racially coded. Tallevast’s Black residents, and the homes in which they lived, were not deemed worth the effort to fulfill the agency’s mission to protect the public.
• • •
It was not until September 2003—over three years after Lockheed Martin informed county and state officials of the contamination—that community members became even loosely aware of what was transpiring in Tallevast. An oft-told story is that resident Mrs. Laura Ward, encountering a crew of men operating a drilling rig in her yard one afternoon, asked them what they were doing, to which they responded, “You don’t know, but the water is contaminated here.” Another resident, Mrs. Wanda Washington, is said to have learned of the contamination from a repairman who was denied a permit to work on a trailer behind one of the community’s churches, Bryant Chapel, because of the trailer’s suspected contamination. When Ward and Washington together approached local and regional agencies to ask what was going on, they got the runaround: a Manatee County Health Department official sent them to the FDEP Southwest District Office in Tampa; FDEP encouraged them to talk to Lockheed.
When they finally learned in early 2004 that the FDEP had been making enquiries about residential wells, Ward was immediately able to supply a list of twenty-five residences that utilized well water. After facing pressure from the community and local media, the FDEP agreed to test them to determine if they had been contaminated by solvents.
Residents did not learn until 2004 that the FDEP had been making enquiries about residential wells, at which point Ward was immediately able to supply a list of twenty-five residences that utilized well water.
On May 20, 2004, the agencies sampled seventeen wells, but with media pressure mounting, Deborah Getzoff, director of the FDEP Southwest District Office, assured the public that “private drinking-water wells in Tallevast are not threatened by pollutants from the former American Beryllium site.” She could not have been more wrong. TCE concentrations were above drinking water standards in five of the wells sampled that day, ranging from 7.4 ug/L to 220 ug/L—44 times the EPA’s maximum contaminant level.
• • •
Officials from state and county agencies attributed their failure to mitigate contaminant exposure to a disintegration of interagency communication. Charles Henry, environmental health director of the Manatee County Health Department, wrote on May 15, 2004, that his department “first became aware of the health concerns of residents and the potential for off-site groundwater contamination near the former American Beryllium plant when the local media printed the first story on May 1, 2004”—four years after Lockheed Martin had notified the FDEP.
The Manatee County Environmental Protection Department also claimed not to have discovered the contamination until 2004. Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Scott Carroll published an article on May 15, 2004, in which he interviewed Karen Collins-Fleming, director of the Manatee County Environmental Protection Department. “Collins-Fleming said she never saw a letter Lockheed Martin sent the county in 2000 notifying it of the pollution and can’t find it anywhere in the county’s file,” Carroll wrote. “The DEP only sent the county a couple of reports on the testing and cleanup efforts out of the dozen or so submitted.” Collins-Fleming adamantly claimed that “this basically has been an issue between DEP and the owner. Since they don’t have any requirement to pull us into the loop, we were unaware.”
TCE concentrations were above drinking water standards in many of the wells sampled in the community, ranging from 7.4 ug/L to 220 ug/L—44 times the EPA’s maximum contaminant level.
The professed collapse in interagency communication extended to the farcical searches for wells. When Paul Panik of the Manatee County Environmental Protection Department inspected the county utility billing records on May 10, 2004, he realized that at least thirteen residences were not paying to be connected to the public water supply. With just this cursory search, Panik had already identified four of the five residences whose wells were known to have concentrations of TCE above drinking water standards. If the FDEP had asked the county to examine its financial records earlier, it would have recognized that a number of other Tallevast residents were not connected to the public water supply.
In fact, the FDEP had to look no further than its own office for information about residential wells in Tallevast: it already held three reports from other projects that identified private wells in the community. But even if officials were unaware of the three reports of wells, or doubted the results of Kimberly Brooks’s search, Lockheed Martin informed Gonsalves that it “had identified what they believed were potable wells near the [former American Beryllium] site to the east (1-2 blocks) of the railroad tracks” during the March 5, 2002, meeting. FDEP held in its own building information it spent months half-heartedly trying to track down outside of it. Meanwhile residents continued to drink water that contained trichloroethylene.
• • •
As the realities of the contamination became clearer to the community, Heathington, drawing on her experience as a registered nurse, conducted a health survey of Tallevast residents in 2005. Visiting with every family in Tallevast, she found fifteen cases of cancer spread across the community’s eighty-seven homes, as well as high rates of miscarriage, sterility, and neurological disorders. Heathington’s discoveries convinced her of the need for a systematic study by state officials.
“The overall cancer incidence among Tallevast residents was 85 percent higher than among the Florida African Americans.”
Three years later, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Florida Department of Health’s (FDOH) Division of Environmental Health ran statistical studies assessing the risk of residents getting ill from their exposure to the contaminants measured by the FDEP. Using data from two databases, the Florida Cancer Data System and the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics, FDOH concluded that while there was a slightly higher number of expected cancers, “causality cannot be assessed” because of the small sample size of residents and the agency’s professed inability to verify the addresses of community members. A test with interviews and surveys would yield more conclusive results, it advised, although no state agencies have provided any kind of study since the ATSDR conducted one in 2008.
F.O.C.U.S., a local advocacy group led by Tallevast residents Ward and Washington, commissioned the most detailed public health investigation of Tallevast residents so far. In the final two months of 2010, when environmental consultants measured beryllium dust around the ABC site at 250 times acceptable levels, a team of public health researchers led by Janvier Gasana, then an Associate Professor at Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, surveyed almost 70 percent of Tallevast residents about their health, and acquired medical records of over 150 residents from other databases monitored by the state of Florida. Gasana’s results illustrated the deterioration of residents’ health. He confirmed that there were 78 cases of cancer diagnosed in current and former Tallevast residents from 1962 to 2010, concluding that “the overall cancer incidence among Tallevast residents was 85% higher than among the Florida African Americans.” Gasana also determined that “cancers were positively associated with drinking well water among people who never used filtration and were born in Tallevast after 1962.”
The Florida Department of Health challenged Gasana’s methodology after reviewing his completed report in 2012. Although his methodology was approved by an independent expert and supported by state senator Bill Galvano, the FDOH refused to endorse it, effectively stalling, and at this point eliminating, any kind of state-mandated response to Gasana’s clear delineation of a cancer cluster in Tallevast.
• • •
The Tallevast community has sought restitution through Florida’s courts and legislature. Since 2011 F.O.C.U.S. has filed a series of ultimately unsuccessful suits against FDEP challenging the agency’s approval of Lockheed’s remedial action plans. Residents have also filed lawsuits against Lockheed Martin. For instance, in 2007 Ziegler and his family sued Lockheed for their contraction of berylliosis; the case was settled in 2011 for an undisclosed amount. The largest suit, Laura Ward v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, included over 200 residents who sought monetary damages for the contamination of their properties, and for the distress caused by Lockheed’s failure to inform them of what had transpired. Filed in 2005, the case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2010. Many residents felt that the settlement did not come close to covering what they had lost in land, homes, and community.
Outside of the courts, the Tallevast case led legislators to change the FDEP’s notification procedures for environmental contamination. A Committee Substitute for House Bill 937, also known as the “Tallevast Bill,” now obligates FDEP to inform residents within thirty days of reported environmental contamination of their homes and properties. Sponsored by Senator Galvano, and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005, the legislation might spare other communities from polluters withholding information about leaked waste, and from the incompetent responses of Florida agencies to toxic spills. Although the bill and the settlements concluded Tallevast’s story in the press, neither remedy has, in any meaningful sense, saved Tallevast.
In failing to hold Lockheed and Loral Corporation accountable for poisoning Tallevast, Florida local and state authorities reinforced structural racism, and aligned themselves with U.S. ambitions to police the world.
That Tallevast has not received satisfactory recompense from the state for the near destruction of its community is hardly surprising. National protests in recent months have brought public attention to state-coordinated assaults on Black lives through urban renewal, sterilization, and, of course, police brutality. In Tallevast, the state acted no less maliciously by ignoring and then concealing the community’s poisoning by a private arm of the military–industrial complex. In failing to hold Lockheed and Loral Corporation accountable for poisoning Tallevast, Florida local and state authorities reinforced structural racism, and aligned themselves with U.S. ambitions to police the world. Legal and then de facto segregation created racial boundaries that separated Tallevast from equal education, civic amenities, and clean air and water; Cold War capitalist profiteering sickened Tallevast’s residents and looted their property.
• • •
Adjacent to the plot that was recently emptied of ABC’s last remains is a new edifice that stands out from the older properties in Tallevast. Painted peach pastel and burnt orange, it resembles homes found in more exclusive sections of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The pristine building, a state-of-the-art water treatment facility owned and operated by Lockheed Martin, is shrouded in secrecy. The facility processes groundwater pulled in from over seventy wells located throughout the community, removing contaminants and dumping treated water into surrounding wetlands. Lockheed Martin has to periodically apply for permission from the Manatee County Utilities Department to release the effluent, applications that will be a regular occurrence during the fifty to hundred years that it is expected to take for the groundwater to finally be cleaned.
The expensive remediation process is increasingly more for the benefit of the industrial development enclosing Tallevast than it is for the Tallevast community itself. This fall, the Manatee County Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning of former residential and agricultural properties for industrial use to make way for the construction of warehouses that will house offices for a Fortune 500 firm. When Tallevast residents contested the rezoning proposal out of concern for how new construction will affect the groundwater treatment, the board claimed it will rely on FDEP’s oversight to ensure the community’s safety.
While Manatee County reimagines the future of Tallevast’s land, its community is undergoing a generational shift. Ziegler succumbed to berylliosis in 2017, convinced that Tallevast residents would have never allowed ABC inside the community if they had known what beryllium production could do to their bodies—what it ultimately did to his body. Last January, Heathington passed away, about a week after her ninety-fourth birthday. When she told the story of the old, unreliable bread truck that made her and her Tallevast classmates late for school, she would often end on a note of pride about the fact that Tallevast residents were property owners—something few Blacks in the county could say. “[T]hey would laugh at things about kids from Tallevast,” she would divulge with a slight grin, “because we were from the country, not knowing that most of the people from Tallevast owned [the land] they had . . . and could do what they wanted with it.” Owning land was meant to lead community members inexorably toward future prosperity. Now most of that land—poisoned by hostile forces that the founding families could not have imagined a century ago—remains in the hands of their descendants, who must determine what is to come.
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February 03, 2021
25 Min read time