PLANT CITY – The Coronet Industries factory opened a few years before World War I.
And like a battle-scarred veteran, the phosphate processing plant is showing its age.
Environmental regulators say it is time for the plant to be brought up to date and better maintained. The county Environmental Protection Commission has cited Coronet for numerous violations. As a result, the company agreed to a consent order that includes an audit of problems at the plant, followed by repairs. The EPC gave Coronet until Oct. 14 to submit a repair schedule and until May 2005 to fix the problems.
In response, Coronet has unveiled plans to spend more than $400,000 to fix shortcomings in pollution control at the factory south of the city limits.
Some of the problems identified in the audit are as minor as poor record keeping. Others are more serious, such as a leaky system to control hydrogen fluoride and borax spilled on a plant floor. The audit was conducted by a firm agreed upon by the EPC and Coronet.
There are about 140 problems. Some can be fixed with better employee training, the company said in a lengthy report released Friday. Others will require the company to spend thousands of dollars, the report states.
“We’re gonna meet that May 2005 deadline, and we’re going to spend far more money than we’re obligated to spend,” said David Weinstein, a Tampa attorney who represents Coronet.
There are a number of chemicals and heavy metals on the plant grounds – such as fluoride and boron – all byproducts of turning phosphate into an animal feed supplement. No one knows whether those harmful substances have contaminated surrounding areas, although 20 wells near the plant have elevated levels of lead, arsenic, boron or cadmium.
County EPC air management Director Jerry Campbell said his agency pressed Coronet for a general upgrade of the plant after years of air quality related violations. The ongoing problems uncovered in inspections by regulators showed a disturbing pattern, he said.
Campell said Monday that he hopes for a new philosophy at the company.
“The idea that they need to tend to their equipment and make sure that all the pollution control equipment is operating properly from here forward I think is the most important thing,” Campbell said.
Coronet has been under the scrutiny of environmental inspectors for years. The tempo picked up considerably when health officials launched a study this year into complaints by neighbors of the plant that they were getting sick from something in the water, soil or air.
There has been much finger-pointing at Coronet, although there are also two old landfills in the area, and health officials haven’t confirmed that rates of cancer are higher than average near the plant.
Campbell said his agency believes Coronet’s emissions are not an imminent public health threat. The EPC has installed more sophisticated air quality monitors around the plant and hopes to soon have one to monitor hydrogen fluoride.
The plant’s system to remove hydrogen fluoride is leaky – in at least one spot patched with duct tape – so not all of the harmful gas is passing through pollution control devices, he said.
The plant puts out about 2 tons of fluoride a year, he said.
Coronet is starting to take corrective measures at the plant, Weinstein said. And it’s backing up its commitment with money, he said.
“We’ve completed approximately 35 of those items [problems] already at a cost of somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000,” he said.