Booklet arrives ahead of Stauffer report
By ROBERT FARLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000
TARPON SPRINGS -- Just three weeks before the release of a report expected to criticize its job of informing the public about health risks posed by the Stauffer Superfund site, the Florida Department of Health has begun circulating a booklet on radiation for people in Tarpon Springs and Holiday.
The booklet, prepared by the Florida Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, comes in response to questions raised by residents in a series of meetings held in mid 1999.
Registry ombudsman Ron Wilson plans to release his own 196-page report, which he said will be the longest ombudsman's report in government history, concerning the Stauffer site on Jan. 11.
As ombudsman, Wilson is responsible for reviewing how that agency and state officials have responded to Stauffer's risk to public health. He has not discussed his upcoming report in detail but has said it would generate intense public interest.
On Friday, Wilson called the timing of the state health department's booklet "curious and ironic."
"I can tell you it's two years behind when it was needed," he said.
Lu Grimm, who prepared the pamphlet for the Florida Department of Health, said the timing is a coincidence. The booklet is being published now, she said, because that's how long it took to pull it together and get it approved.
Only 20 copies of the booklet were circulated to residents who served on the Tarpon Springs Education Work Group, a committee of residents and health officials. Their comments are due Jan. 31, and the final draft will be released to the public shortly afterward, Grimm said.
The Stauffer plant, which processed phosphorus for decades, closed in 1981. The 130-acre site on the Anclote River, near the Pinellas-Pasco county line, is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of Superfund cleanup sites.
The 24-page booklet begins with a general explanation of what radiation is, and its different types. It also explains the potential health effects of radiation exposure and how people can limit exposure.
Later, the booklet deals with questions more specific to the Tarpon Springs area and Stauffer.
For example, it responds to community reports of "clouds of dust off-site during the plant's operation."
"There are no data on what the clouds of dust may have contained," the pamphlet states. "Therefore, no one can predict what effects, if any, there may have been from someone having been exposed to the dust."
But Wilson said his report details evidence that the clouds formed when the plant's furnace was in operation and were not dust, but rather phosphorus pentoxide.
Phosphorus pentoxide is an irritant to the lungs, Wilson said, and it can pose serious health consequences if breathed for long periods.
Grimm said there was no air monitoring going on near Stauffer in 1981, and therefore, any information about what the clouds may have been would be anecdotal.
The booklet also discusses the radioactive slag from the plant that was used in roads, driveways and home foundations in the area. Surveys performed by the Florida Department of Health's Bureau of Radiation Control assured the registry that the slag used in nearby roads and driveways is not a health hazard, the pamphlet states.
Additionally, the pamphlet states, "slag found in building materials of homes has shown only a few areas that are near levels of any concern."
The pamphlet also briefly addresses why there was some cleanup of off-site phosphorus slag in Soda Springs, Idaho, but not here.
"The slag at the site in Idaho was found not to pose a health risk," the booklet states. "Removal of phosphate slag in Idaho was due to politics rather than public health."
Wilson, who said he also covers this issue at length in his report, disputes the contention that the registry found the slag did not pose a health risk in Idaho.
"I can tell you our preliminary health assessment did consider this to be some health risk," Wilson said. "I read the health assessment somewhat differently than they interpreted it."
Bailey's Bluff resident Bruce Dickey, who has long called for cleanup of the off-site slag, said that contrary to the contention in the pamphlet, it is Tarpon Springs that is being influenced by politics. The booklet's conclusions about the off-site slag in the Tarpon Springs area are based on flawed investigations, he said.
"There is worthwhile information in this booklet," Dickey said. "However, it seems again to be slanted to convince people here that nothing is wrong."
Longtime Stauffer activist Mary Mosley's assessment of the booklet was even more critical.
"I think it's a lot of smoke," Mosely said. "It's not helpful to the community. They only did it because Ron Wilson is coming out with his report and they wanted to put something out."
Wilson said that although he found the timing of the pamphlet suspect, he is reluctant to criticize it.
"Providing information is always helpful," he said. "Assuming their facts are correct, this is the kind of information that needs to be out."
- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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