Officials questioned on Raytheon toxic plume

07/14/08 Seán Kinane
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Groundwater contaminants exceeding target levels have been found in 13 irrigation wells in the Azalea neighborhood of St. Petersburg. But a growing plume of contamination from the Raytheon property poses “no health concerns” and a one-in-a-million excess cancer risk, according to University of Florida researchers.

This morning, dozens of concerned citizens questioned elected officials and government regulators at the Azalea Adult Community Center.

In a letter to the regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Bill Nelson is asking the EPA to assist state and local agencies to determine how far the pollution has spread and in cleanup of the contamination. Nelson asked to applause why it took 15 years lapse before residents were made aware of the contamination.

Across the street from the Raytheon plant and above the contaminated plume, State Sen. Charlie Justice told constituents that he is working on new legislation that will require residents to be notified earlier by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Next session will not pass without us doing legislation that will create a better notification system so this will not happen again.”

Azalea Elementary and Middle School are close to the Raytheon Plant, but Pinellas County Schools Interim Superintendent Julie Janssen said students are not in danger.

Gail Guidash is the Environmental Health and Preparedness Director for the Pinellas County Health Department.

Among the citizens asking questions was Samm Simpson, who is a Democrat running for the congressional seat currently held by Republican Bill Young. Simpson asked Nelson to help Azalea residents.

Max Linn, one of Samm Simpson’s Democratic Primary opponents for Congress, noted that the U.S. representative for the area did not attend the meeting.

One resident compared what is happening with Raytheon’s plume of toxic chemicals under the Azelea neighborhood to the U.S. military’s coverup of the dangers of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.

Azalea resident Tom McClure, who lives on 11th Avenue, said “The city knew about this years ago.”

McClure’s neighbor, Barbara Craft, said: “I think Raytheon should be forced to buy all of our properties.”

Many of the residents criticized the state DEP for not taking action sooner. But Deborah Getzoff, the Southwest District Director of the Florida DEP, said her office did not have authority for the Raytheon site until three years ago.

Getzoff said the DEP received Raytheon’s first site assessment on May 30 and it included contamination by a potential carcinogen. Last week contamination was found in a nearby creek that drains into Boca Ciega Bay, the first time contamination of surface water has been documented.

A cleanup plan will be due 90 days after the state deems the Raytheon report to be complete. One method of cleanup may be to pump and treat the groundwater, Getzoff said.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Florida DEP Southwest District

DEP website’s Raytheon contamination info

Raytheon website’s contamination info

Pinellas County Health Department

Pinellas County Schools Interim Superintendent Julie M. Janssen

Letter from Bill Nelson to US EPA

Letter from University of Florida to Florida DEP

Samm Simpson

Max Linn

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