TARPON SPRINGS – Two diverse neighbors share a small, peaceful cove along the Anclote River: a subdivision with a handful of homes and a defunct chemical plant with buried hazardous waste.
A recently released report shows some contaminants from the 160-acre Stauffer Chemical Plant, closed for 13 years, may have seeped into Meyers Cove, shared by manatees, dolphins, fish, blue crabs, oysters and boaters.
Experts haven’t determined yet whether higher-than-normal levels of fluoride and phosphorus have affected the cove’s inhabitants.
“There’s no emergency issue, but there is the long-term issue that we need to clean up the Stauffer site,” said Maxwell Kimpson with the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta.
Residents of the upscale Meyer’s Cove subdivision have mixed feelings about the proximity of Stauffer. Some homes are separated from the plant only by a barbed wire fence or the Meyers Cove inlet.
One homeowner is frustrated she can’t get a straight answer about whether toxic substances at the plant have affected the neighborhood. Those living near the plant have waited for a cleanup.
“It’s very difficult to get basic information that I could feel comfortable with,” said Jamie Morris, who has lived at Meyer’s Cove for 1 1/2 years.
Another subdivision resident doesn’t understand the concern about living near the plant.
“We feel really secure,” said Rhonda Black, who recently moved in. “I think it was blown out of proportion. Anytime you use the word ‘chemicals,’ people freak out.”
More information has been released in the new report, available at Tarpon Springs Library for those with time to pore over the five volumes and 1,000-plus pages filled with scientific terminology.
The report, called a remedial investigation, details the chemicals remaining at the plant and surrounding areas. The EPA oversaw research for the report, prepared for Stauffer by Roy E. Weston Inc., an environmental consulting and engineering firm in West Chester, Pa.
With information from the report, the EPA will determine the effects of the Stauffer plant on people and the environment. Then the federal agency will come up with cleanup options and will present a proposed plan at a public meeting, probably this fall, Kimpson said.
The plant, on Anclote Road and County Road 992, is nominated for the National Priorities List of the country’s most serious hazardous waste sites. All that’s left is completion of the necessary paperwork.
The list includes abandoned or unregulated hazardous-waste locations requiring attention under the Superfund program. Cleanup money comes primarily from petroleum industry taxes used when a company can’t pay for cleanup or when there’s an immediate health threat.
Victor Chemical Co. began production at the Tarpon Springs plant in 1947. It produced elemental phosphorous from phosphate ore, mined from deposits in Florida. Much of the waste from production was disposed of in ponds and pits on the site. They weren’t lined to prevent the waste from soaking into the soil, Kimpson said.
“That was the practice at the time,” he added.
Stauffer Chemical, later renamed Stauffer Management Co., purchased the plant and operated it until 1981. Five years later, the company decided to dismantle the site. The plant’s kiln, some processing equipment, the furnace building and an overhead conveying system were taken apart two years ago. The work was done to remove cancer-causing asbestos from plant buildings.
Some buildings remain, but nothing else will happen there until the EPA has a clear idea of the cleanup, Kimpson said.
The new report states that contaminants were found not only at the Stauffer plant, but also in nearby Meyers Cove and at Gulf View Elementary School just north of the plant on Anclote Boulevard in Pasco County.
Because of concerns raised by parents, the EPA asked the US Public Health Service to determine whether the Stauffer plant poses “an imminent and substantial endangerment” to pupils and staff.
The low levels of contaminants – including metals and phosphorous – found on school grounds aren’t a health hazard, according to a memo by Kenneth Orloff, a senior toxicologist with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Public Health Service.
The soil also contains radioactive material at concentrations within acceptable levels, Orloff wrote. That and the other contaminants at the school occur naturally in the soil in Florida, Kimpson said.
At the Stauffer plant, contaminants in surface soil include above normal levels of arsenic and radioactive material, Orloff wrote.
“These contaminant levels do not pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health,” he wrote.
Three employees who do routine groundskeeping at the plant wear protective clothing. The site is fenced in and has 24-hour security, said Jerry Harris, manager of environmental operations for Zeneca Inc., a Deleware-based affiliate of Stauffer Management Co.
Just west of the Stauffer site is Meyers Cove. The plant borders half the cove, and the Meyers Cove subdivision the other half. The EPA report states that levels of fluoride and phosphorus in sediments in Meyers Cove may have increased because of surface and groundwater runoff from the plant.
“The highest phosphorus and fluoride concentrations detected during the 1993 sediment sampling [of the Anclote River] were in Meyers Cove,” the report states.