ST. PETERSBURG — The air inside homes near the Raytheon plant appears to be free of the three main toxic chemicals spreading beneath the Azalea neighborhood near Tyrone Square Mall, state health officials said Thursday.
Air samples taken inside nine homes and condominiums in the neighborhood all came back negative for those chemicals, said Susan Skye, a scientist with the state Department of Health.
"It does not appear that vapor intrusion is likely," she said.
However, not all the tests were analyzed, because four of them disappeared. State records show those four samples were put in a box handed to DHL to ship to a laboratory in Utah, just like the other samples. But that particular box did not arrive, Skye said.
But the missing samples were from sites where the Department of Health had taken other samples that did make it to the lab in Utah, she said. Still, if the missing samples do not turn up by next week, she said, the state will go out and take new ones.
Two samples did show elevated levels of a contaminant that was not one of the major concerns in the toxic underground plume, Skye said. However, those samples came from homes where the residents smoke, she said, and cigarette smoke could explain those readings.
Health officials were concerned about the possibility of vapors from the contaminants, now flowing toward Boca Ciega Bay, migrating up into houses throughout the Azalea neighborhood.
Workers discovered the contamination by cancer-causing chemicals in 1991 near the intersection of 22nd Avenue and 72nd Street N.
The pollution originated from a drum storage area on land that then belonged to a company called E-Systems. Tests found a plume of chemicals — including vinyl chloride, trichloroethene, 1,4 Dioxane and cis-1,2-Dichloroethene — in the groundwater beneath the site. When Raytheon bought E-Systems in 1995, it inherited the pollution headache but did little beyond monitoring the problem.
In February 1999, Raytheon's consultants told the state Department of Environmental Protection that "plume containment has been achieved" by letting it dissipate naturally, so it posed "no imminent human health or ecological risk."
But six months later, in August 1999, DEP and Raytheon officials met to discuss the fact that the plume had spread "offsite." Last year, tests showed the plume moving under residential neighborhoods near Azalea Park, but most residents were not notified about it until earlier this year.
Raytheon has proposed a cleanup plan for the neighborhood. DEP officials said they are still reviewing the plan to see if it will be approved.