PLANT CITY – People kept telling us they were sick, and they were wondering why.
Residents near the Coronet Industries plant and abandoned landfills spoke of diseases and voiced fears that pollution may be to blame.
Plant City commissioners heard their fears. With the 2,600-home Lakeside Station project one vote from final approval, they put it on hold until a federally mandated public health assessment could be made.
In subsequent weeks, residents kept asking our reporters whether and when someone from the government would check on their ailments.
We could not get definite answers, so we decided to send reporters door to door to see whether we could learn just how healthy, or sick, the residents were.
Reporters surveyed residents closest to Coronet in September, completing most interviews by December. Some follow-up information was gathered in that area through March.
A survey of Lincoln Park, which borders two old landfills in the area, began in December and is ongoing.
Reporter Bill Heery proved to be the Tribune’s workhorse, collecting responses from 162 of the 263 households surveyed. Later we eliminated results from 13 households where residents had been in their homes less than a year.
Reporters knocked on all the doors, except where dogs, signs or gates barred entry. In those cases, the Tribune mailed a survey with a postage-paid envelope. When reporters found homes where residents spoke only Spanish, a survey written in Spanish was delivered.
The survey team included reporters Heery, Yvette C. Hammett, Liz Bleau, Jill Greenwood, Deborah Alberto, Karlayne R. Parker, Joe Humphrey, Plant City Bureau Chief Dave Nicholson, Brandon Bureau Chief Sue Anastasia and WFLA, News Channel 8, reporter Jennifer Leigh.
Research and archives manager Jody Habayeb and researcher Buddy Jaudon helped plan the survey. Jaudon logged many hours compiling results and assembling them by categories of illnesses and addresses, invaluable tasks in helping to make sense of the results.
Computer-assisted reporting specialist Doug Stanley and graphic artist Tim Lee spent hours creating a map showing where illnesses were found.