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    Stauffer site studies called inadequate

    A citizens watchdog group says studies of the chemical cleanup plans are riddled with shortcomings.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The studies proposed to evaluate the controversial cleanup plan for the Stauffer Chemical Superfund Site are flawed, incomplete and ultimately will fail to answer the most important question: Is the proposed cleanup safe? That is the stark conclusion from technical advisers hired by the Pinellas-Pasco Technical Advisory Group, a local citizens watchdog group known as Pi-Pa-TAG, to review cleanup plans.

    "They are like one giant dimpled chad, as far as I'm concerned," technical adviser Kevin Pegg said at a Pi-Pa-TAG meeting in Tarpon Springs on Wednesday night.

    Under public pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed in September to step back from legally commiting Stauffer's parent companies to its mound-and-cap cleanup plan until more tests were completed. The studies were to include tests of the durability of the mound-and-cap plan, as well as tests of the area's propensity for sinkholes and groundwater contamination. Many residents contend those tests should have been done before selection of the mound-and-cap plan.

    Chief among the concerns of Pegg and his partner, Mary S. Saunders, is the plan to inject concrete into the ground beneath the most highly contaminated settling ponds. The process is called in situ -- Latin for "in its original place" -- stabilization.

    Pegg contends the EPA has yet to provide an example of an "unambiguously successful use of in situ stabilization" nor any data to suggest it can provide long-term stability with elemental phosphorus. The 130-acre property on the Anclote River, near the Pinellas-Pasco border, was once a phosphorous processing plant.

    The stabilization process is still highly experimental, Pegg said, and "this area here is just a horrible place to try it out."

    Pegg also has concerns about how the phosphorus will react with materials used to mix the concrete. While many people know that phosphorus ignites when it comes in contact with air, Pegg said, it also ignites with other elements. He worries such reactions could cause large pores in the concrete that could compromise the cleanup. The proposed studies would not address those concerns, he said.

    Another problem, Pegg said, is that the EPA still does not know how deep the contamination has migrated, or whether there are any sinkholes beneath the surface. If cleanup crews drill into the ground below the ponds, he said, they could hit a cave and send contaminants straight into the river.

    Stauffer Property Manager Frank McNeice declined Thursday to comment on specifics of Pi-Pa-TAG's report. He said the company's consultants are reviewing the comments and will be submitting responses to the EPA later this month. EPA officials did not return calls on Thursday afternoon.

    Last month, Pi-Pa-TAG sent a letter to the EPA renewing its plea to consider alternate cleanup remedies, such as hauling the contamination off the site.

    "This (the plan to conduct studies) is an attempt to pacify the affected residents, while the studies themselves are simply part of a plan to suggest that the already-chosen remedy is adequate," Pi-Pa-TAG secretary Heather Malinowski wrote. "No attempt seems to be made toward a true scientific approach."

    While EPA and Stauffer officials agreed to withdraw the consent decree, the legal document that would have locked Stauffer into the cleanup plan, the mound-and-cap cleanup plan remains the only alternative under consideration.

    Withdrawal of the consent decree was a good first step, Malinowski said, but it's not enough unless other cleanup options are considered.

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

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