PLANT CITY – One resident told Plant City commissioners on Monday night of numerous health problems her family suffered while living near the Coronet Industries phosphate plant.
Another said a vote on a proposed 2,600-home subdivision next to the plant is “almost a matter of life and death.”
After hearing those and other residents, commissioners voted to postpone until January public hearings on code and land use changes requested by the developer. Had they approved the changes, the project, Lakeside Station, would have been cleared for construction.
Audra Cable told commissioners she couldn’t, for the life of her, figure out why her young daughter was so ill.
“She had been in and out of the hospital 13 times in one year,” she said. Doctors couldn’t make a diagnosis. But the problems started as soon as her daughter was old enough to play outside, she said.
Audra Cable also was sick, diagnosed with cervical cancer even though she had no family history of the disease. Her 16- year-old sister had kidney stones. And her husband had problems with flushing of the skin, a symptom she now knows is associated with arsenic poisoning.
She always wondered why her family had these health problems. Now, she thinks it may have something to do with where they lived for about four years – on Cason Road, east of Coronet Industries’ plant. They moved to the other side of the city in January, and her daughter has not been severely ill since.
“Coronet is a polluted place,” she told commissioners. “If you put 2 and 2 together, you’ll know that people are sick because of the toxins around there.”
State and federal health officials are investigating people in Cable’s former neighborhood and another area northwest of the Coronet Industries to determine whether reports of a high incidence of cancer and other ailments might be related to pollution in air and groundwater at the plant. They will also study two former landfills on the Lakeside Station property to see whether they are causing health problems.
The city’s public hearings, started Monday, will be continued in January, or when a public health assessment can be completed. That assessment could take up to a year to complete, federal health officials said.
The property owner’s attorney, Jim Shimberg Jr. of Holland & Knight, told commissioners he hoped to expedite the health department’s assessment by encouraging them to look at his client’s land separately from Coronet Industries.
Children’s Health At Stake
Commissioners were swayed, however, by several residents who spoke against rushing the process.
“This is almost a matter of life and death,” Irene Farmer, a resident, told commissioners. She encouraged them to take this “very seriously. This is people’s health at stake. This is our children we are talking about.”
Commissioners followed the recommendation of City Manager David Sollenberger, who cited a federal study into two nearby neighborhoods where residents have complained of rampant cancer.
Despite the decision to postpone public hearings, commissioners still bantered for hours Monday morning about signage, street sizes, mailboxes, speed limits, garage appearance, and other design elements of the proposed Lakeside Station project.
Some commissioners said talk continued because the ordinances can apply to other large developments. But given that Plant City has run out of land where other large development can occur, officials would have to annex land to accommodate any other large- scale residential project.
Developer Faults Comparison
A representative of Sunrise Homes, the developer proposing Lakeside Station, said early Monday that the project was being unfairly tainted by environmental problems at Coronet Industries. Sunrise Homes has contended its property is safe for building.
Much of the site of Lakeside Station at Park Road and U.S. 92 was once mined for phosphate and used as a landfill. Sunrise Homes says the approximately 24 acres that was once a dump would be set aside as a park and would not be a threat to residents.
Plant City resident Lorraine Wigger compared the proposed development to the infamous Love Canal area of New York, where the government relocated dozens of homeowners and closed an elementary school due to buried hazardous wastes.
Wigger does not live in the Coronet Industries area but said she was concerned about the city rezoning the property to allow the development. Environmental problems are well-documented at Coronet, a plant that has been in operation for about 100 years. But no one knows for sure whether the plant’s contamination has spread to other areas, and if so, in what quantities.
And it is also not known whether environmental problems are lurking at the site of the proposed Lakeside Station development.