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Tampa clears sheds and garages of toxic castoffs

The city invites people to bring in old, dangerous household chemicals and dispose of them free. People line up to take advantage.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002


TAMPA -- Ron Nelson found some toxic doozies when he cleaned out his mother's utility shed.

Besides two dozen cans of old paint, he stumbled on mole cricket bait in a disintegrating bag and a pint-sized container of pesticide.

It was dark green, with U.S. military insignia. Nelson, 57, suspects his late father picked it up around the time ofthe Korean War.

"It melts plastic," Nelson joked.

On Saturday, he got rid of it for free.

Nelson was one of more than 400 residents who brought unwanted household chemicals to W Spruce Street so government contractors could do away with them safely.

The event was the city of Tampa's first toxic roundup.

Officials said it was needed to get dangerous substances out of homes, away from city sanitation workers and out of the waste stream, where they could eventually pollute air and water.

"Every bit helps," said Hallie Calig, an environmental specialist in the city Solid Waste Department.

Workers unloaded trunk after trunk of rusty paint cans, used motor oil and crusty batteries. Others filled the back of a moving van with ratty television sets and computer monitors.

Somebody even dropped off a 1970s-era microwave.

"Full of lead," said Beth Kirk with Superior Special Services Inc., the company that will sort and recycle the dropped-off electronics.

Plastic and metals will be culled from the televisions and computer monitors. Mercury will be removed from the fluorescent light bulbs.

The paint and used oil will become fuel at cement kilns.

Stuff that can't be recycled, such as pesticides, will be neutralized or burned at facilities designed to deal with them, Calig said.

Organizers weren't sure beforehand what the turnout would be. But by the time the gates opened at 10 a.m., traffic was backed up on Spruce Street almost to N Dale Mabry Highway, several blocks away. At noon, the line was 60 cars deep.

"In a way, it's good," Calig said of the long line. "They're going out of their way to do this."

Surveyors were busy counting cars and asking participants where they came from. Calig said that will help the city determine how often to hold such events in the future, and where.

"It's inconvenient now," she said. "But we'll get faster."

Many people said they didn't mind the wait. But some said the city should hold the collection events more often.

Leigh Raydin and Sharon Lubrant, a Carrollwood couple, brought in two years' worth of just about everything, including power steering fluid and lantern batteries.

"It's stinking up my garage," Lubrant said.

Jimmy Dichiara held up two fliers in the window of his minivan. One touted Saturday's city-sponsored event, the other listed dates for Hillsborough County's roundups, which are held three times a month.

"What's wrong with this picture?" he said.

Keith Grubb brought old paint and a propane tank, stuff he never got rid of because "there was no place to dump it."

But before she left for the weekend, Grubb's wife highlighted the notice on the latest utility bill that said when and where the roundup would be. Then she stuck it on the refrigerator.

Grubb knew what that meant.

If he hadn't been waiting in line Saturday, "I'd sure have been in trouble," he said.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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