Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida’s Panhandle are known for their unspoiled beaches and the Gulf of Mexico’s pretty waters — less known is that the area has some of the highest concentrations of toxic substances in the U.S. A three-month investigation by the Pensacola News Journal found that death rates from all forms of cancer in the counties far exceed national rates and that childhood cancer rates are among the highest in the nation. Escambia County ranks 22nd out of more than 3,300 counties nationwide in the amount of toxic releases reported by industries to the U.S. EPA. The counties are home to paper mills, power plants, and chemical plants, as well as six Superfund sites.

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