PLANT CITY – City leaders lambasted regulatory officials Monday for not notifying the public of problems at Coronet Industries, a phosphate processor with a history of environmental lapses.
The four commissioners present at Monday’s city commission meeting voiced serious reservations about enforcement operations and the lack of notification, especially since two weeks ago commissioners were on the verge of approving zoning changes that would have made way for the city’s largest housing development.
The commission meeting was host to an unusually full house, with standing room only. Commissioner Mike Sparkman was not in attendance.
Commissioner Richard Glorioso told regulators he had been unusually quiet during their presentations on the status of Coronet Industries and landfills in the area that may be causing public health problems in surrounding communities.
“I’m usually not this way,” Glorioso said. “But I’m mad. And when I’m mad, I lose my temper. From what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t give anybody a permit to do anything.”
Glorioso’s comments came after presentations from the various agencies on the status of violations at the plant.
Coronet has 144 violations concerning air emissions, and has various waste and water quality problems on the site of the facility. Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials said they have little information to base decisions on whether contamination on the plant’s site is affecting public health.
Other than consent orders and agreements made with the plant’s operators, DEP officials said their only recourse is to deny permits, one of which is currently up for renewal.
Commissioner John Dicks said he was “truly amazed” that residents weren’t notified of leaky storage tanks, air emissions problems, and hydrofluoric acid spills creating discharges of arsenic and other contaminants into English Creek. “At what point do jurisdictions receive notice?” he asked.
DEP officials said water permits are subject to public comment.
To date, the only testing for contaminants conducted in private wells outside the plant was a year ago. Officials said one well showed an excess of arsenic.
That was the well of Billy and Laurel Williams, who live across from Coronet. The tests were done in July 2002 as a result of a 1999 hydrofluoric acid spill.
The Williamses were contacted by the DEP to arrange the testing but said they were never told the testing was being done because of contamination at the plant. “They said it was routine and we were selected at random,” Laurel Williams has said.
If it hadn’t been for the fine print on a back page of the results, the Williamses may not have known about the arsenic. In large print, the document showed that their well fell below levels of concern for barium, chromium and two other chemicals. It wasn’t until Laurel Williams took a closer look that she realized her well was tested positive for an excess of arsenic, she has said.
The DEP installed a reverse osmosis system on their kitchen sink.
The Williams family has had health problems but members say they will wait until a federal public health assessment is complete before laying blame. Laurel Williams was diagnosed with osteoporosis at age 40, and their daughter had a tumor at age 16 that resulted in a portion of her thumb being removed. Their 22-year-old son has tremors, Billy Williams says.
Other residents of the area have complained of rare and unusual health problems.
Coronet Industries is under state and federal investigation, accused of allowing toxic waste dumping and encouraging employees to deceive regulators.
But Coronet was never mentioned to the Williamses.
The DEP’s waste administrator, Bill Kutash, said the testing was routine.
Coronet’s human resources manager, Scott Davis, said after the meeting that his company has been painted in a negative light, but he looks forward to the outcome of the investigations.
“We’ve been aboveboard and fully cooperated with all the agencies,” he said, adding that law enforcement had not contacted them yet, but they plan to “cooperate fully.”
Health officials said the health assessment will start with testing wells within a half- mile of the site. They hope to have those results and answer questions at a public meeting Aug. 19 at Marshall Middle School.
* Reporter Deborah Alberto can be reached at (813) 754-3765.