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A new Stauffer cleanup plan

By ELENA LESLEY
Published June 5, 2007


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TARPON SPRINGS - After the earth itself caught fire during cleanup tests last year at the Stauffer Chemical Superfund site, the company came up with a dramatically different and less-combustible plan.

Gone is the idea of using cement to solidify tainted soil into an inert mass.

Considering how easily the elemental phosphorus at the site can ignite, it was just too risky.

Now officials want to surround the worst areas of pollution with an underground wall, said Randy Bryant, remedial project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The wall would go 10 to 20 feet deep and would prevent water underground from flowing from one side of the contaminated area to the other.

The encircled area would then be sealed with a watertight cap.

Officials made the change "for safety and practical reasons, " said Brian Spiller, chairman of Stauffer Management Co.

"Based on the pilot work, it's necessary, " he said.

But Tarpon Springs resident Mary Mosley, a vocal advocate of digging up and removing the waste, criticized the new approach.

"The plan they approved doesn't work, " she said, adding, "The new one won't work, either. Stauffer's getting away with a cheap, so-called fix."

A judge signed off on the solidification plan in October 2005 after decades of debate over how to manage the polluted site. Hazardous materials, including arsenic, lead and radium-226, were left at the site by a phosphorus-processing plant that operated there from 1947 until it closed in 1981.

Many residents, like Mosley, had wanted the waste dug up and hauled away.

But the EPA's plan called for a less drastic solution - mixing contaminants with cement to harden the waste and chemically lock the pollutants in place.

Then the site would have been capped to prevent rain from washing through the soil and flushing contaminants into the groundwater below.

In February, this strategy backfired.

As crews conducted field tests on the property, the ground ignited and burned for more than two hours.

"It was a reaction between the elemental phosphorous and cement mixture, " Bryant said.

Stauffer Management Co., which is paying for the cleanup, began looking at other options.

Given the fire, and the amount of debris in the former waste ponds, the company decided building a wall would be a better solution.

Spiller called it the "most obvious, most effective" strategy.

The EPA agreed to the new plan, and a flier was sent to affected parties at the end of last week.

The wall would be built of interlocking panels and would be constructed around the perimeter of the former waste ponds.

The purpose "is to reduce the groundwater flow through the contaminated area, " Bryant said.

Once the wall was complete, it would be sealed with a cap, as had been the plan with the original solidification strategy.

A material for the wall has not been decided, but Bryant said the EPA hopes design plans will be finalized in the fall and either steel or heavy plastic could be used. He said construction of the wall could begin in early 2008.

What will go on the site, once it is contained, remains to be seen. Recreational and commercial uses have been raised as possibilities in the past.

"We're in discussions with developers, " Spiller said, "looking at a number of options."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

Fast Facts:

To learn more

The EPA will hold availability sessions for residents interested in learning more about the agency's new plan to stabilize pollution at the Stauffer Chemical Superfund site from 6 to 8 p.m. June 12 at the Tarpon Springs Public Library, 138 E Lemon St.

[Last modified June 5, 2007, 00:27:00]


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