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Funding cuts may let toxic site languish

The contaminated Southern Solvents land in Carrollwood may be left untouched because of a federal budget crunch.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 2, 2002

TAMPA -- A parcel of industrial land in Carrollwood considered one of the most toxic waste sites in the nation may not get cleaned up.

Financing for the cleanup, and for the cleanup of 32 other sites in the nation, could be drastically reduced or dropped because of federal budget woes.

The change is the result of a shortfall in the Superfund budget, which has dwindled over the years because chemical and oil companies no longer are required to pay a special tax once levied specifically for cleanups. The tax used to bring in as much as $1-billion a year.

The Linebaugh Avenue plot in Carrollwood is one of five Florida Superfund sites slated for cuts, according to the New York Times, which based its list on documents submitted to federal lawmakers by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The site, just west of Gunn Highway, was the home of Southern Solvents, a company that distributed chemicals to area dry cleaning businesses for eight years. It closed in 1985.

Duringthe company's years of operation, the chemical agentperchloroethylene would leak or spill into the soil from tanks, said Galo Jackson, remedial project manager for the EPA.

An investigation into possible leaks at a gas station next door led to the discovery of the chemical-laced soil, and the EPA became involved.

In 2000, EPA officials added the Southern Solvents site to a National Priorities List for cleanup. Studies on how to clean up the site have been under way for a couple of years, Jackson said, and research on one phase of the cleanup process was being completed when news of the funding cuts broke.

"I know that money is tight," Jackson said, "(but) it would be preferable to address the problems now, as soon as possible."

Jackson said the first phase of the cleanup is expected to cost about $3-million. It involves injecting agents into the soil to convert the carcinogen into harmless compounds.

He did not have a cost estimate for the second portion of cleanup, which includes flushing the Floridan aquifer, because a study has yet to be completed.

Hazardous levels of perchloroethylene linger in the dirt and upper-level groundwater and could cause health problems such as headaches and eye irritation if ingested, Jackson said. The substance is known to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in rats, he said.

But earlier this year, state health officials determined that the site posed no apparent health threat because residents and businesses in the area get their water from Hillsborough County.

EPA officials were expected to meet in September to review all of the studies and prioritize cleanup efforts, Jackson said.

News of the cuts by President Bush's administration was brought to light by Democrats opposed to the decision. They gleaned their information from a 76-page letter drafted by the Inspector General's office.

In the document, dated June 24, regional EPA officials requested about $450-million for cleanup efforts. Only $220-million has been allocated.

Taxpayers may foot the bill for the rest. That angers U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Nelson, who called the cuts "our worst fears realized," said Monday that he is cosponsoring a bill that would require polluters to pay for toxic remediation.

"We can't afford to let this type of pollution linger in our neighborhoods," Nelson said. "It's a matter of public health."

The other Florida sites reportedly slated for funding cuts are in Pensacola, Port Salerno, Clermont and Lake Park.

Jackson said he did not know what the future holds for the Southern Solvents site.

"Certainly, we're going to continue finalizing designs and getting documents prepared until we hear otherwise," he said.

-- Times Researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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