Burial inquiry under way
Officials are investigating whether dog remains at a construction site posed an environmental risk.
By GINA PACE
Published October 5, 2006
LAND O'LAKES - State and federal officials are investigating a construction site where bags and bags of dog remains have been discovered over the last month during the expansion of the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration opened the investigation late last week to determine if workers removing the remains were exposed to illnesses or diseases from the carcasses, said Les Grove, director of the agency's Tampa office.
Citing an open investigation, Grove would not provide further details.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is also looking into the matter to determine if there are environmental issues tied to the burial of the animals, Grea Bevis, chief of the DEP's bureau of environmental investigations, said Wednesday.
The construction site is across a dirt road from the Oakcrest Pet Cemetery, which holds the remain and gravestones of some 6,000 pets. Pasco County bought approximately 40 acres, which includes the 2-acre cemetery, in 2004 from Carolyn Shea and other neighbors to expand the recreation complex's offering of baseball diamonds, football fields, soccer fields and parking.
The county agreed to preserve the cemetery, but nothing was mentioned about the adjoining land. How and why so many animals were there remains a mystery, said Dan Johnson, the assistant county administrator overseeing public services.
County officials have tried, but can't find Shea. They say she has moved out of the state.
Johnson said he was told a year and a half ago by a cemetery worker that Shea had worked out a special arrangement for pet owners who couldn't afford a plot and allowed them to be buried on land near the proper cemetery. Still, that doesn't account for the large number of dogs, many found in clusters. Officials haven't counted how many carcasses were found, but workers were still uncovering them last week.
"It's obvious to me that Shea had an arrangement ... with vets or kennels to dispose of euthanized animals," he said.
Johnson said he does not believe it was illegal to bury animals there because regulations governing pet cemeteries are less stringent than for human cemeteries. The county has taken every precaution to protect workers and the environment, he said.
Johnson contacted Dr. Marc Yacht, the Pasco County Health director, to see if there were any health risks. Yacht visited the site, and after consulting with the state's public health veterinarian, determined there was a nuisance problem because of the foul odor from the carcasses, but no health risk to workers. After consulting the Department of Agriculture, Yacht recommended the carcasses be disposed of like any other kind of waste - in the county landfill.
Johnson said all of the animals had been buried there before the county bought the property in 2004, and the remains appeared to be much older.
Carina Blackmore, the state's public health veterinarian, said it is uncommon for diseases to spread from dogs to people, and there was little risk after two years.
"Although this is certainly a concern and an unpleasant situation, it's not considered a biohazardous risk," Blackmore said.
A representative from Dunedin's Bande Construction, the general contractor for the project, referred questions to the county. Johnson said that workers are wearing masks, but they were for odor, rather than respiratory issues.
[Last modified October 4, 2006, 23:01:42]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]