EPA cleanup lambasted by Tarpon resolution
By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer
TARPON SPRINGS -- City officials in Tarpon Springs typically distance themselves from issues related to the old Stauffer Chemical property, quickly pointing out that the polluted Superfund site is outside the city's limits.
But in an unusual move, commissioners are scheduled to vote tonight on a resolution supporting cleanup of the site and a proposal to provide medical tests for former students and staff members from nearby Gulfside Elementary School in Pasco County.
"I'd like to see them start digging it up and hauling it out of here," Mayor Frank DiDonato said of the hazardous waste at the site. "What is to be gained by delaying this whole process? It's obvious that it's a problem."
Stauffer was not on a list of 33 Superfund sites in 18 states that have been designated for funding cuts by the Bush administration. It wasn't a candidate for the list, since Stauffer Management Co. -- not the government -- is paying for the cleanup and other efforts at the site.
"This site was not even being considered" for the list of funding cuts, said Carl Terry, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.
"That has no impact on us," said Frank McNeice, Stauffer's site manager. "Stauffer is committed to paying all the bills here."
When local Stauffer activist Mary Mosley read a newspaper story about the proposed list of cuts Monday morning, she said she was "very fearful it was our Superfund site. "I know that these people (around the country) have to be very concerned, including in Pensacola," where officials have proposed cutting off funds to clean up the old American Creosote Works site, she said. Also on the list to be cut is the Southern Solvents site in Tampa.
Later, she learned that Stauffer was not on the list.
"I have to say I was greatly relieved, but . . . there are still very stressful, worrisome problems" about the Stauffer cleanup, she said.
Referring to the EPA's former ombudsman, who resigned in April rather than accept an internal transfer of his office, Mosley said, "We need Robert Martin back, because EPA hasn't done anything for this site, hasn't done anything for this community and I have no reason to believe that they're going to start."
The EPA originally proposed mixing the waste at the site with cement and sand to solidify it, then covering the mixture with a watertight cap to prevent water from washing toxic chemicals into the groundwater by trickling through the tainted soil.
Now, as a result of questions raised by Martin and others, a series of studies on the plan is under way. Among other things, the studies will help determine whether the recommended cleanup would endanger groundwater supplies by causing a sinkhole that would allow contaminated dirt to plunge into the aquifer.
The phosphorus-processing plant opened at the site in 1947 and was sold to Stauffer in 1959. The plant closed in 1981. After officials found high levels of arsenic, lead and radium-226, as well as four contaminants known to or suspected of causing lung cancer, the site was put on the EPA's Superfund list in 1994.
The proposed city resolution says the EPA has "failed to secure and implement a safe and effective plan for remediation" of the site.
DiDonato said it came about after a conversation he had with Mosley, in which they discussed the possibility of the city writing a letter about Stauffer. DiDonato said the resolution is a stronger statement of the city's position.
If the resolution passes at the commission meeting tonight, the letter will be sent to U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; the EPA; the state Department of Environmental Protection; and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, DiDonato said.
In addition to wanting the area cleaned up for environmental and health reasons, DiDonato wants the site cleaned to help the city attract developers to the north side of the Anclote River.
"It's a little bit of a tarnish on the city," DiDonato said.
Copies of the resolution, which also encourages the county's leadership to "assist in the timely resolution of this issue," have been sent to county commissioners.
County Commissioner Susan Latvala said she supports the resolution.
"It's certainly a cleanup that needs to happen," she said. "It's just a thorn in the side of the county."
The EPA had not received a copy of the resolution Monday, and Terry had no comment about it Monday.
Everyone wants the site cleaned up as soon as possible, McNeice said in response to the city's proposed resolution. He pointed out that a geophysical study is under way, a groundwater study is set to begin later this month and other studies will follow.
"I'm not aware of anybody who has a goal other than the cleanup of this site," he said. "There may be disagreements as to what may be a suitable method for cleanup of the site. But I don't think there's anybody who doesn't want to get this cleaned up in a timely fashion."
-- Staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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