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Critics doubt Honeywell cleanliness

Residents living near the site and activists ask whether the company is doing enough to clean up pollution at the property.

By JOSH ZIMMER
Published June 3, 2004

TAMPA - Contamination was discovered at Honeywell's former Waters Avenue plant in the early 1980s.

It was so bad the company installed a water treatment system around the 16-acre property near Dale Mabry Highway and paid to connect 20 surrounding homeowners to public water.

But some are still discovering the environmental mess for the first time.

Hiran Hernandez recently got a letter in the mail saying another multimillion-dollar cleanup project was set to begin and that residents could learn more about it at a community open house this week. He left work early Wednesday to attend the event at Egypt Lake Elementary School, not far from the vacant facility.

"Hopefully, it's not a problem," Hernandez said after browsing the large information panels set up around the cafeteria. While hooked up to city of Tampa water, he uses well water for irrigation, washing his car and filling his pool.

Hernandez wasn't the only neighborhood homeowner feeling a little unsure amid a bombardment of science and finger-pointing.

In several weeks, Honeywell is supposed to start cleaning up the contaminated soil beneath the plant, thought to be the source of surrounding pollution. Using new and rare technology, workers will drill holes through its cement slab and insert electrodes into the ground to turn water into steam. Equipment will then capture the vapor.

The project is scheduled to take one to three years and cost $8-million to $14-million. The price tag also includes analyzing the heavy metals Honeywell dumped into nearby Gold Lake to determine whether it should be dredged.

Honeywell produced circuit boards at the plant for the military between 1964 and 1985.

The cleanup is the second controversy to hit this quiet residential neighborhood in less than a year. TECO caused a ruckus months ago by installing oversized electric poles without community input.

Some aren't convinced Honeywell and the state have done everything possible to clean the site.

"I am so opposed to the pollution that's been allowed here," activist Judy Williams said during a press conference before the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. open house. "And you ... see our corporate citizen turn their nose and walk away. In my opinion, good corporate citizens have ethics."

David Simon, whose family owns the former Honeywell site, said the plan doesn't go far enough. He said making the site safe and marketable again will cost $35-million to $50-million.

"There's no black and white," he said. "In fact, Honeywell has done just about nothing to contain the contamination on the site."

But Honeywell and DEP say 20 years is a reasonable amount of time for an environmental cleanup.

After installing the water treatment system around the plant, the company had to wait until the contamination stopped spreading, said Boston attorney Thomas Christo, who handled Simon's unsuccessful $125-million suit against Honeywell. Now that the plume is contained, the company can move to the next phase with hope of success, he said.

"To me, it seems this has been dragging on a long time," said Gerald Doyle, who was assured 20 years ago that his well water was safe. He just had his water tested again by the Hillsborough County Health Department, which is awaiting the results on a dozen wells.

Kevin Barber, who spoke at the news conference, said he observed the pollution after taking a job with Honeywell in the mid 1980s.

"It does make you feel strange," said Barber, who bought into the neighborhood two years ago. "There's the possibility I could have been exposed to it."

- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 813 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 01:00:36]


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