PLANT CITY – Soil tests in the vicinity of Coronet Industries have uncovered no unsafe levels of nearly a dozen pollutants, environmental officials announced Monday.
The soil was tested for 11 inorganic compounds, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and boron. The levels detected were above what would be considered naturally occurring in Florida’s soil, but below those that would be considered a threat to public health, environmental officials said.
The soil was tested in 22 locations around the phosphate processing plant at 4082 Coronet Road, south of the city limits. The locations were selected based on computer modeling that showed areas where emissions from the plant’s smokestacks were likely to settle, said Paul Schipfer, a manager in the air division of the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.
The EPC collected soil samples and tested them in an in- house lab.
Officials didn’t test for fluoride, a substance that state health officials have expressed concern with in the probe into allegations that something in the soil, air or water near Coronet might be making people sick, particularly with cancer.
“It doesn’t mean we think fluoride could or could not be a concern out there,” said Jerry Campbell, who oversees the EPC’s air division.
A “more sophisticated” modeling technique is under way, which might result in further testing, Campbell said.
Hydrofluorosilicic acid – namely hydrogen fluoride – may be the leading concern regarding Coronet Industries, according to the National Institute for Environmental Health. The North Carolina- based research institute is designated by the federal government to study chemicals and their risk to human health. Coronet discharges about 4 tons of hydrogen fluoride per year as a byproduct of phosphate processing, the EPC said.
Christopher Cortier, a statistician and head of the agency’s environmental toxicology program, said health issues related to hydrofluorosilicic acid used in the phosphate processing industry are highly debated and are being studied.
Small amounts of fluoride help prevent cavities, but high levels can be harmful, he said. In adults, high fluoride exposure over a long time can lead to a medical condition called skeletal fluorosis with denser bones, joint pain and a limited range of joint movement.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to furnish a monitor for hydrogen fluoride emissions from Coronet. The monitor is in Atlanta, and the EPA will bring it to Plant City and train environmental officials on its use, an aide to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said. Nelson, D-Tallahassee, recently visited Plant City and promised to make sure federal officials are doing all they can to help in the investigation.
County regulators say they need the monitor because some hydrogen fluoride released at Coronet bypasses pollution control devices because of aged equipment at the nearly 100-year-old plant.
Federal documents show fluoride at 14 million parts per billion in shallow groundwater on Coronet property. The health department deems 2,000 parts per billion safe for human consumption.
It is not known whether those levels exist in deeper water on or off site.
The commission sampled the soil as part of an ongoing probe. Several wells near the plant have tested positive for elevated levels of boron and radiation. The soil was not tested for radiation because soil in that area is known to have radiation, officials said.
The health study hasn’t confirmed that cancer rates are higher around Coronet. Officials are looking at Coronet and two old landfills near Park Road and Alabama Street, north of the plant, as possible sources of pollution.
* Reporter Deborah Alberto can be reached at (813) 754-3765.