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    Agency's radiation booklet criticized

    The section on the Stauffer site dissatisfies a watchdog group, but its section on the basics wins praise.

    By ROBERT FARLEY
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 28, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The Florida Department of Health has released a new booklet on radiation, geared specifically to address questions raised by residents who live near the Stauffer Superfund site.

    The first half of the booklet acts as a primer on radiation, introducing readers to the basics: alpha and beta particles, ionization, gamma rays, isotopes and such.

    Several residents who have seen the pamphlet praised that part as worthwhile and educational. It's the second half of the booklet, which deals specifically with radiation concerns in and around the Stauffer site, that many find lacking.

    The conclusion in the booklet is consistent with the Department of Health's position all along that slag, a radioactive byproduct from the plant that was added to concrete used in local roads, driveways and home foundations, contains radiation at levels that are not a health hazard.

    What the booklet does not include is dissenting opinions from other scientists about the possible health risks of low levels of radiation, said Heather Malinowski, secretary of the Pinellas-Pasco Technical Advisory Group, a watchdog group known as Pi-Pa-TAG.

    "There really isn't agreement in the scientific community about the dangers of low-level radiation," Malinowksi said.

    From 1947 to 1981, the Stauffer Chemical plant processed phosphate in a huge kiln to produce elemental phosphorus. The EPA put the 130-acre site on its Superfund cleanup list in 1994.

    The booklet is intended to answer some of the residents' lingering questions about radiation, said Beth Copeland, a community information and education consultant for Florida Department of Health.

    "People have been concerned about that for some time," she said. "People in the community have had many questions. We are hoping people will read this and get a basic understanding of radiation."

    The booklet was prepared in response to questions raised by a committee of residents in a series of five meetings held in mid 1999.

    Malinowksi worries that residents will assume the booklet and its conclusions are endorsed by the resident committee. It is not, she said.

    "There are not many who were at this workshop who are happy with this result," Malinowski said. "We don't want people to think we are behind this message."

    Mary Mosley, a Tarpon Springs resident and longtime Stauffer activist, called the booklet "very disappointing."

    "We had many meetings over this," Mosley said. "Most of what the community recommended to be in that brochure is not in there."

    For example, she said, residents have repeatedly asked for a list of all the carcinogens, harmful chemicals and radiation at the site.

    The purpose of the booklet was specifically focused on radiation concerns, Copeland said. As for harmful chemicals on or off the site, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is in the midst of creating a new public health assessment that will answer some of those questions, she said.

    Mosley said the booklet appeared to be another attempt to "minimize what Stauffer did to this community."

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

    To learn more

    The Florida Department of Health's new booklet on radiation and the Stauffer Superfund site is available at the Tarpon Springs Public Library, 138 E Lemon St. To receive a copy by mail, call Lu Grimm at the Florida Department of Health toll-free at 1-877-798-2772.

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