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Mines agree to tougher testing

The Hernando County Mining Association will pay for more sensitive air-quality tests that monitor small particles.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- After months of negotiations, the Hernando County Mining Association has agreed to pay for more sensitive air-quality tests than have been conducted in the county.

Its decision comes less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency can enforce tighter standards on particles that come from industrial plants. The EPA has not set any new requirements for monitoring small particles, although it is expected to do so.

"This is the newest and latest standard. We just wanted to go forward with it," said Mike McHugh, association president. "We wanted to wait and see if EPA formally adopted it. We didn't want to do any testing based on something that had no relevance to us."

The testing should help determine whether area cement plants are polluting the air with fine soot particles that can cause respiratory ailments after lodging deeply in the lungs, County Commissioner Betty Whitehouse said.

The plants already have agreed to monitor for larger particles, a practice ended in 1996.

"Hopefully, what it's going to say is what they've been contending all along, that there aren't that many pollutants," said Whitehouse, a nurse who campaigned last year for tougher county environmental rules. "If any difficulty would show, then we need to go to an action plan. This is the first stage, to see if anything is out there."

Critics have sought this type of testing since they heard the EPA was moving toward it. Dozens pressed the matter in January 2000, when commissioners considered and approved a comprehensive plan amendment to allow Florida Rock Industries to expand its operations in northern Hernando County.

The commission and county residents also raised the issue after Florida Crushed Stone unveiled plans in 1999 to build a second cement kiln, which was approved later that year but remains in the engineering stage.

Sally Sevier, among the most vocal opponents, offered only slight praise for the association's latest move.

"It's a start," Sevier said, quickly launching into a series of details she wanted to have before she would go further.

Sevier wondered what types of material will be monitored and who will do the monitoring, handling, collecting and studying of the data. Depending on those answers, she said, the proposal could be valuable or a waste.

McHugh said an independent firm will collect the data and provide it directly to the county and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Everyone wants accurate and useful information, he said.

"Anyone who has got a concern, this hopefully will provide information to determine whether their concern is valid," he said. "The industry has nothing to hide. We have gone above and beyond what is required. But we feel we have a responsibility to provide information to the public."

The association plans to cover the full cost, more than $100,000, for three years. McHugh is scheduled to explain the program to commissioners on Tuesday.

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