TARPON SPRINGS — Efforts have finally begun to clean up a hazardous swath of land that housed a chemical plant along the Anclote River.
But some residents who for years fought for the cleanup of the 130-acre site are still a bit uneasy.
"It's a good thing for something to be done because it's a bad situation out there," said Heather Malinowski, a Tarpon Springs resident who was active in the push for a cleanup. "On the other hand, how adequate is what they are doing?
Workers began arriving at the site last month, with the bulk arriving this month. They are implementing a remediation plan designed to contain toxic materials left behind when the plant closed in 1981.
The plant was built and operated by Victor Chemical Co. It began production in 1947. In 1960, Stauffer Chemical Co. bought the plant and it continued to produce elemental phosphorous until its 1981 closure.
The phosphorus-processing plant left 30 toxic substances in the water and soil, including arsenic, lead and radium-226.
Workers at the plant were exposed to asbestos, lead, sulfur dioxide and other contaminants that could lead to an increased risk of cancer.
The EPA put the area on its Superfund list in 1994. The cleanup is expected to cost upward of $10 million and will be paid for by Stauffer. The project is expected to be completed in July 2011.
Work has began on the southern parcel, which calls for a 10- to 20-foot deep wall to be built around ponds in a 29-acre area. The area will then be sealed with a watertight cap. A cap also will be put on an 181/2-acre area of a northern parcel.
A seawall will be built on the eastern side of Meyers Cove and along a portion of the Anclote River shoreline.
During the cleanup, the air will be tested every 15 minutes to ensure contaminants are not spread. Construction equipment also will have air monitoring capabilities. To tamp down some of the dust, the areas are being sprayed with water.
"The monitoring results so far have been fine," said Randy Bryant, remedial project manager for the EPA, who is based in Atlanta. "Some people said they have noticed a smell.
"Some of the dirt that has been sitting for a while may have a musty smell to it, it's possible. I didn't notice that when I was there."
Andrew Boeckl, 37, was raised in Tarpon Springs and remembers the odor the plant used to emit. He recently moved back to town and said that folks are questioning the site's future use.
Bob Shay of Stauffer Management Co. said at a meeting in March that there are no future plans for the property. And while the company wants a solid piece of property, the main concern right now is safety, Shay said.
The site is 2 miles from the Gulf of Mexico near the Pinellas-Pasco county line and is one of few large tracts of vacant waterfront left in Pinellas. No homes can be built on the site, according to Stauffer.
Boeckl said the environmental value should have been a concern when the chemical plant was there initially.
"The thing that strikes out at me is whenever people are doing these sort of explorative things, no one understands the costs down the road," Boeckl said. "The short-term profits outweigh long-term cost. Somewhere down the line, the environment, the ecology … something is going to pay the price."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.