Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Residents await action in toxic waste plume cleanup

ST. PETERSBURG — Cleaning up the underground toxic waste plume near the Raytheon facility in northwest St. Petersburg likely will take years and cost millions of dollars, experts say.

The plume, migrating west toward Boca Ciega Bay, consists of several chemicals considered a risk to human health.

The prospect of a long-term cleanup has further unsettled homeowners in neighborhoods west of the Tyrone area, where health effects and property values already are provoking deep concerns.

While Raytheon and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection insist no immediate health threat exists, other environmental experts disagree.

"If it's above a health level, there's a risk," said Jim Gore, a professor of environmental science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Two lawsuits on behalf of residents were filed in April.

Cleaning up underground toxins involve a number of expensive and time-consuming processes ranging from removing affected soil to filtering groundwater.

Engineers discovered toxic chemicals at the site in 1991 during construction of the Pinellas Trail. In 1994, additional chemicals were found leaking from an underground tank, which was removed.

At the time, E-Systems owned the site, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection designated them the responsible party in March 1995. Raytheon inherited the responsibility when they purchased the facility in April of that same year.

A 1999 feasibility study by Arcadis, Geraghty and Miller, the engineering firm Raytheon hired to handle their environmental issues, determined that the plume was stable or shrinking, "posing no imminent human health or ecological risk."

But a DEP document shows that wells tested in March 2007 at Azalea Park, 72nd Street N, the Brandywine Apartments, 70th Street N and Stone's Throw Condominiums show levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane and other toxic chemicals well above levels considered potentially hazardous to human health.

It will likely be several years before cleanup begins because state regulations require determination of the plume's size and makeup first, said Gabrielle Enos, vice president of Solana Environmental Associates, a Tampa based company.

"It creates a situation where I can almost bet they will spend a lot of time chasing the plume."

And while regulatory compliance has its place, Enos said it may not be the best way to get things cleaned up.

"It's like asking an ambulance to go the speed limit," she said. "You don't want that if you're in the back."

Gore said the geological makeup of the area, including the shallow and fast moving Floridan Aquifer, makes the plume's actual extent hard to determine. Gore said he wouldn't be surprised if the cleanup takes more than 10 years — once it begins.

Cleanup can involve several processes used individually or in combination, depending on the chemicals identified and the extent of the contamination.

Workers can physically remove soil and dispose of it off-site as toxic waste.

A common method of on-site remediation involves pumping the groundwater out, running it through filters and then re-injecting it back into the ground, a process akin to kidney dialysis. Engineers can also inject various chemical compounds or microbes into the soil and groundwater, which will neutralize or consume the contaminants.

Gore said the DEP or EPA determine the methods, making costs nearly impossible to estimate.

"I don't think I can even give you a ballpark," he said. "The EPA can pick the most expensive method if they want."

A similar site near the small Manatee County community of Tallevast exemplifies the time and cost involved in cleaning up toxic plumes.

Lockheed Martin discovered chemical contamination at the site in 2000. Initially thought to encompass only five acres, the affected area had grown to nearly 200 acres by 2006.

It took Lockheed six years to define the plume and the cleanup began last year. The company has spent $20-million so far, said Lockheed spokeswoman Gail Rymer.

Wilma Subra, a chemist and consultant who worked with Tallevast resident groups, estimates the actual cleanup cost will run an additional $20-million and said it will take about 20 years to completely remediate the area.

"Once the chemicals get in the water and start moving, you're looking at a big expense to address the source areas and a big expense to keep it from migrating," she said.

Michael Maharrey can be reached at 727-893-8779 or

Residents await action in toxic waste plume cleanup 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 6:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31


    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win


    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday


    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle