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Action demanded at toxic site

Activists threaten a class-action lawsuit if Honeywell doesn't rid the vacant plant of chemicals sooner than later.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published December 14, 2005


TAMPA - The dirt sample Ron Sachs held up, colored silver by metals and toxic substances, is a dollop of what lurks beneath the surface at a deserted Honeywell plant.

New delays in decontamination plans spurred activists to speak out Tuesday at the vacant plant at Waters and Himes avenues. They demanded that Honeywell immediately clean up pollution on the property, claiming that a class action lawsuit is looming.

Honeywell - a maker of defense, transportation and electronics components - polluted the soil, groundwater and a nearby lake from 1965 to 1983 with chemicals, including one that irritates skin and may cause cancer.

In September, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ordered Honeywell to come up with decontamination plans by the end of 2008.

Last month, Honeywell challenged the order. Sachs, representing the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, called the challenge a "callous, calculated move that seems almost certain to delay this cleanup by three more years."

Honeywell spokeswoman Victoria Streitfeld, reached by phone, didn't give a reason for the challenge, but said Honeywell will keep cleaning the site while the petition is pending.

"Since 1983, we have been pumping and treating the groundwater 24 hours a day, every day," said Streitfeld, who said Honeywell has spent more than $14-million on the effort. Streitfeld said the "overwhelming amount" of the money has gone toward cleanup and not legal and other fees.

In 2004, seven homeowners living just south of the site filed suit against Honeywell. That lawsuit is poised to grow, said Denise Layne, a spokeswoman for the homeowners' lawyer, Sam Bearman. Layne said Bearman has asked a judge to give the suit class action status, claiming that 5,100 parcels near the site have been affected by toxic material. David Simon, who owns the property, says he's tired of the delays.

"If Honeywell has its way, it'll be five, 10, 15 years before anyone cleans up this property," he said.

Simon, a Los Angeles lawyer, found out about the pollution in 1996 after being asked to sign a permit. For years, Honeywell leased the site from the Simon Family Trust and claimed to be the owner on documents, according to federal court documents. Simon said he can't lease or sell the land in its current state.

Tuesday, Simon banded together with environmental and water advocates, members of the Sierra Club and community groups and representatives from a New Jersey's Interfaith Community Organization, who fought Honeywell in similar situations in Jersey City.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at 813 269-5303 or shayes@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 00:13:09]


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