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Chemicals At School’s Doorstep

July 13, 2008

By Carlos Moncada, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jul. 13–U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday is expected to call on the federal government’s help in cleaning up the toxic groundwater plume of chemicals that has spread to Azalea Elementary School from the Raytheon defense plant in west St. Petersburg.

“The plume is now at the front door of the elementary school,” Nelson said in a news release. “We have to make sure the kids and everybody else aren’t exposed.”

Nelson is scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. Monday with representatives of the Pinellas County School Board, the Azalea Neighborhood Association, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other officials at the Azalea Adult Community Center, 1600 72nd St. N.

The senator plans to release a letter he has drafted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency asking it to backstop state and local officials working on the Raytheon site, the release said.

The chemical plume was discovered in 1991 on a site then owned by E-Systems and later purchased by Raytheon, both defense contractors. Most area residents, though, didn’t find out about the contaminated groundwater until March from news reports.

Raytheon’s environmental scientists have said there is no threat to public health and that the risk of developing cancer from exposure to the plume is less than one in a million.

This week, the company said on a Web site that contamination has been detected in 13 of 272 irrigation wells tested near the plant, west-southwest of the Tyrone Square Mall area.

There are an estimated 700 irrigation wells within a mile of the plant, none of them used for drinking water.

In May and on Wednesday, community meetings were held to discuss the extent of the contamination and efforts to monitor the toxicity.

Raytheon announced Wednesday the state would expand the testing being conducted in the area to include air quality inside homes and apartments that sit atop contaminated groundwater.

The state has asked Raytheon officials for more testing that will better define the distance and depth of the groundwater plume.

Additional tests to determine why the chemical dioxane is flowing down a creek near the plant also are needed, DEP district director Deborah Getzoff said last week.

Reporter Carlos Moncada can be reached at (727) 451-2333 or cmoncada@tampatrib.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

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