Residents protest contaminated Lockheed Martin site06/13/08 Arielle Stevenson
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It has been more than 10 years since Lockheed Martin discovered a soil and groundwater contamination in the small town of Tallevast, located between Sarasota and Bradenton in Manatee County. But residents of Tallevast were not aware the contamination even existed until just three years ago. They gathered to protest as Lockheed held a public meeting on how the company plans to clean up the site.
Last night Lockheed held a meeting on the site of the contamination, to inform the public how the cleanup process will work. Residents protesting the meeting, stood across the street in the rain wearing medical masks.
Beverly Bradley, who lives in Tallevast, says Lockheed’s actions are too little too late.
“We think its unjustified for them to act like this is a circus and not be serious about our health and stuff. To invite us to come over to that building that caused the whole problem out here in Tallevast, and eat hamburgers and sit down like its nothing, we’re not going to do it."
The contaminated site was owned by fellow weapons manufacturing company Loral starting in 1961 and housed Loral’s American Beryllium Co. until 1996 when Lockheed bought out the company nationwide. Lockheed then sold the site to a wire harness company in 2000.
According to Lockheed Communications Director Gail Rymer, the contamination was discovered in 1996 during an “environmental assessment in preparation for selling the property.”
“There’s no way to determine, when it happened, when it may have started to migrate in the groundwater system. There’s just no way of knowing. But as far as knowing if and when, you know, we really don’t know,” Rymer said.
Trichloroethene or TCE was found on the site in 1996 after the assessment was done, but Lockheed says that two years later they had excavated what they thought was the majority of the contamination. It wasn’t until 2000, through a Florida department of environmental protection cleanup process that they discovered that the TCE had seeped into the groundwater. But residents say that despite being switched over to public city water almost immediately, health problems are evident.
“We do have people out here, everyday, that are complaining of headaches, breathing problems, nosebleeds, cancer. So there’s got to be something to it other than people just sick. We are getting sick from something,” Bradley said.
Willy Hitts says that what the community really wants is to be relocated during the cleanup, which will include excavating the site and digging up the contaminated soil. Hitts and his neighbors are concerned about their health. But they are more concerned with the community center adjacent to the site. Hitts has lived next door to contaminated site for three years.
The Rev. Charles Mckenzie of St. Petersburg, and state chair for the Rainbow PUSH organization was there and said this is environmental racism.
“Lower income neighborhoods, whether they be black or Hispanic or even poor whites, there’s a tendency for these mega corporations to their dirty work and then move along and leave the community to deal with fallout from that.”
One group has been working with Lockheed on behalf of the community, FOCUS --Family Oriented Community United Strong. Their president and vice president were at the meeting and say they don’t understand why relocation is not being discussed.
Relocation was not discussed at last nights meeting but Rymer says Lockheed is doing everything it can to right the situation.
FOCUS members and residents in the Tallevast community say justice is not achievable at this point.
“You know the greatest thing that could happen is Lockheed step back and take a look at things and see the error of their ways. What price do you pay on a human’s life? They’ve got to really look at that,” said Wanda Washington, vice president of FOCUS.
Restoring the community fully could take anywhere from 30-100 years, due to the fact the size of the plume has yet to be determined as groundwater moves quickly. FOCUS is working with members in Tallevast that are suing Lockheed Martin for illness related to the contaminants in the water. Removal of the contaminated soil will begin next week.