The state department of Environmental Regulation will put monitoring equipment in the Keysville area to test air quality there, residents were told Friday night.
Dr. Rick Garrity, district manager of DER’s office in Tampa, told about a dozen Keysville residents that the mobile air monitoring equipment would be available in early April for about three to six months.
Garrity revealed plans to monitor the air for potential contamination at a meeting called by concerned residents at Thatcher Park. Keysville residents have been complaining for months about fluoride fumes generated by the phosphate plants, particularly International Minerals and Chemical Corp.’s New Wales operations just over the Hillsborough County line.
Residents met with state environmental officials to discuss what could be done about the problem in August, but Friday night’s revelation was the first news that DER would do something. People living in this extreme southeast Hillsborough County community contend that the odors have made life unbearable at times.
Residents have complained at different times of difficulty in breathing, sore throats and other, non-specific health problems due to, they say, excessive emissions from phosphate plants. They also contend that fallout from the plants has damaged the paint on their cars and their crops.
“I think, the bottom line is, that once we get the monitoring equipment in place we’ll know (whether the phosphate operations in nearby Polk County are putting excessive contaminants into the air),” Garrity said.
The mobile monitoring equipment, which is now being repaired in Tallahassee, would measure the air for the presence of various pollutants, Garrity explained. He asked residents to suggest several locations for the equipment.
The phosphate firm also has installed its own air monitoring equipment in the area, he added. Results of a few tests completed so far show that very low levels of fluorides, hydrocarbons, ammonias and other chemicals are present in the air around Keysville, Garrity said.
Most of the dozen residents who attended the meeting, however, said they didn’t trust the results gathered by the phosphate company, adding that they welcomed DER’s tests.
Garrity also updated residents on the action taken against International Minerals and Chemical since the release of sulfuric acid over Labor Day weekend last year.
The state agency has fined the company $5,000 for the mishap, which resulted in damage to crops and livestock in Keysville. Garrity said they have determined that the company spewed the sulfuric acid into the air after restarting its sulfuric acid plants after they were shut down during Hurricane Elena.
During restart, he explained, about 1,000 parts per million of sulfuric acid was released into the atmosphere for more than eight hours. The emission standard for sulfuric acid is 500 parts per billion for three hours, Garrity said.
In addition to putting too much sulfuric acid into the air, International Minerals and Chemical’s sulfuric acid monitor plant was not working at the time of the release.
“That in itself is a violation of our (DER’s) permitting,” according to Garrity.
He also told residents that his agency had developed a special complaint form for their community. Of the forms mailed to 36 households in Keysville, he said 23 were returned from 11 homes.
He urged residents to continue meeting regularly to discuss their complaints, saying that a representative from his office would attend. The next meeting was set for March 17.