TALLAHASSEE – An official with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told a state Senate committee Tuesday that the agency will continue investigating how far pollution has spread beyond the boundaries of Coronet Industries.

Mike Sole, DEP director of waste management, would give no details of where the investigation into the Plant City phosphate processing plant is heading.

“We want to be sure the investigation progresses smoothly,” Sole replied when a reporter asked why he couldn’t reveal what the agency is looking for.

Sole told the committee that the DEP suspects pollution from the phosphate processing is concentrated south of a settling pond. The agency has found 33 contaminated drinking water wells out of 143 that have been sampled in a quarter-mile radius, Sole said.

The DEP and the Florida Department of Health decided at a closed meeting last week not to expand testing for pollutants beyond a quarter-mile radius.

State officials started investigating the plant after residents of nearby neighborhoods started complaining about illnesses.

State officials say they have not been able to link the polluted groundwater to the residents’ illnesses.

Sole also said the DEP is holding discussions with Coronet managers to secure a financial arrangement to pay for a site cleanup if the company abandons the plant.

In February 2001, Mulberry Corp. abandoned phosphate processing plants in Mulberry in Polk County and at Piney Point, just south of the Hillsborough-Manatee county line. The DEP is spending $45 million in taxpayer money this fiscal year to remove radioactive wastewater from the Piney Point plant. The agency will seek $43 million for fiscal 2005 to continue the site closure there.