Don't let the stew at Stauffer go unstirred
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 25, 2002
It is a real loss to the community that Heather Malinowski, a longtime activist in the battle to clean up the Stauffer Chemical Superfund site in North Pinellas, is stepping down.
But unless someone steps up to replace Malinowski and others who have left the battleground, the loss could be even greater.
Let there be no mistake about this: North Pinellas residents must not let the federal government make unchallenged decisions about the cleanup of this massively polluted site on the Anclote River. If that is allowed to happen, the result is easy to predict.
Just look at what happened in the past. If not for the activists who kept tabs on those decisions, the government today might be building on the Stauffer site a gigantic mound of toxic waste covered with an inadequate cap to "protect" the community. That mound, created by piling up the thousands of tons of contaminated soil Stauffer left behind, would be sitting on land prone to sinkholes without sufficient study of whether the mound might cause a new sinkhole to open underneath it, creating a pathway for waste to get into the underground water supply.
Malinowski and the several other members of the Pinellas-Pasco Technical Advisory Group, Pi-Pa-TAG, along with a handful of other community activists, helped call attention to the potential shortcomings of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's work on the Stauffer site. Their activism led to the involvement of then-EPA ombudsman Robert Martin, who had uncovered problems with a similar mound-and-cap cleanup at a Colorado Superfund site. Now, the Stauffer mound is on hold while the EPA conducts additional studies.
Malinowski, a Tarpon Springs mother and businesswoman got involved seven years ago by joining Pi-Pa-TAG, a community watchdog organization like those provided for in the federal Superfund program and given funds to hire independent experts to review the government's cleanup plans for Superfund sites.
Malinowski was concerned for the health of her child and others who live in North Pinellas near the Stauffer site. She had assumed that, along with an army of other concerned local residents, she would attend meetings and write letters for six months or a year and then the need for the involvement would end.
Now she looks back on seven years of battles between a small group of local activists and the EPA, first over the EPA's refusal to share information and cooperate with local residents, and then over the EPA's proposed cleanup method. Malinowski has been one of the most dedicated of the small group's members, staying on task as other members lost interest, moved away or died. She easily spent hundreds of hours studying confusing government documents, writing strong letters to government officials, attending meetings and keeping local residents informed through e-mail correspondence.
Throughout it all, Malinowski maintained a professional demeanor and admirable patience with a system the government seems to have designed to be confusing and discouraging to the residents who are impacted by Superfund hazardous waste sites.
Malinowski says she feels guilty about leaving when the end of the Stauffer saga has not been written, but she is tired and needs to be more involved with her family. Her departure leaves only one member of Pi-Pa-TAG, president Chuck Lehr, and only two or three other outspoken Stauffer-watchers in the community.
People who live in Tarpon Springs and the unincorporated area surrounding the Stauffer site owe a debt of gratitude to Malinowski and the handful of residents who have carried the burden of this task for so long, usually with no recognition.
Now it is time for others to take up the burden. There is still a lot of important work to be done. The EPA is expected to release the results of its geophysical studies of the Stauffer site soon, and those results will need to be studied by people who live here and care about the North Pinellas community. Will those studies, or other information gleaned from the failed mound-and-cap cleanup in Colorado, convince the EPA to find a better, safer cleanup remedy at the Stauffer site?
Someone needs to be watching.
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