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Depot cleanup slow but steady
Hernando County's Health Department says Brooksville's former public works storage site poses no imminent health threat.
By ASJYLYN LODER
Published May 17, 2007
Lauraette Lee's home at 142 A St. in Brooksville is at the southwest corner of the former Hernando County Department of Public Works site.
[Times (2006): Keri Wiginton]
BROOKSVILLE -- It's painstaking and slow, but the cleanup of Hernando County's former public works depot in South Brooksville remains on track, county and state officials said Wednesday.
The latest account of pollution at the site was released Wednesday. The report contained few surprises. It's part of an ongoing effort to see how deep and wide contamination has spread, so the county can come up with a plan to clean it up.
"There is no imminent health threat," stressed Al Gray, director of environmental health for the county Health Department.
Much of the contamination is below ground, where people can't come into contact with it. But the report noted two important concerns: the potential threat to the local water supply from years of chemical pollution, and the need to make sure that the yards of residents near the site are free of arsenic and lead contamination.
The cleanup has proceeded by fits and starts since 1991. Neighbors say the pollution damaged their property and made them sick. Some live within 50 feet downhill of the site, with nothing but a metal fence between them and the polluted property.
Many residents in the predominantly black neighborhood have accused the county of racism, saying that officials have ignored decades of polluting by the Public Works Department.
The county has denied that race played a role, and promised to get the site cleaned up.
The results of the expanded testing found:
Tests continued to outline arsenic contamination. The carcinogen has been found at levels that exceed state limits for residential property. More testing is called for, especially in the surface soil at the edges of the site, where neighbors and their children could come into contact with it.
On-site lead contamination did not exceed state limits for residential property.
Two harmful chemicals -- the banned pesticide dieldrin and chemicals called PCBs -- were found in a yard at the southwest corner of the site at levels slightly above state limits, but the source of the chemicals is unclear.
Tests continue to find petroleum byproducts, likely a result of spills of asphalt, gasoline and diesel fuel. The chemicals have been found 32 times the state limits for residential property.
The report continues to measure high concentrations of harmful chemicals underground, which may pose a threat to the Floridan Aquifer. Earlier tests showed that the aquifer, which supplies drinking water to most of the county, contained poisonous chemicals from fuels and solvents that have leached from the site. While the chemicals present no immediate threat to drinking water, further tests are needed to see how far and how fast chemicals are spreading.
The tests found no contamination in drainage ditches that run through the Mitchell Heights neighborhood. Neighbors had worried that polluted runoff might have carried poisons several blocks from the site.
It's an incomplete picture of how far the contamination has spread, said assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton. The county needs a full outline in order to thoroughly clean the site, but that takes time, he said. Each round of testing takes nearly six months.
"It takes time, and it takes money," Sutton said. The county has spent more than $1-million since August 2005.
The second phase of the report is due July 16. More testing may be required before the county has a cleanup plan.
While that might take months, the testing is crucial to any cleanup, explained Pamala Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the county's efforts.
Neighbors need to know that the cleanup isn't on a back burner, Vazquez said. "Just because they're not seeing dirt moved on the site doesn't mean that people aren't working behind the scene."