ST. PETERSBURG — Dominick Griesi's voice grew louder and more passionate as he spoke of the toxic plume running underneath his Azalea neighborhood, and of the stalled efforts to clean it up.
"Why is it taking so long?" asked Griesi, 67. "I'm tired of it."
That sentiment was echoed by his neighbors, a handful of state lawmakers and a representative of the local Sierra Club who gathered at Azalea Park on Saturday morning to urge the Raytheon company and the state Department of Environmental Protection to do whatever it takes to clean up the contamination, which was discovered nearly 20 years ago.
They're upset that the cleanup has been delayed by a back-and-forth between the two parties. Raytheon had submitted its latest cleanup plan to the state in February. But on May 13, the state informed Raytheon officials in a letter that it needed more information from them before it could approve the plan, and it gave the company until July 14 to respond.
That didn't sit well with state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, who organized Saturday's gathering. State Reps. Janet Long, D-Seminole, and Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, were also on hand.
Justice told residents he has sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist urging him to get more involved in the situation.
"Every time we delay this, the neighborhood has to wait, wait and wait," said Justice, who encouraged residents to stay vigilant. "This issue should be on the front burner, not the back burner."
The contamination was discovered in 1991 on the property now owned by Raytheon. It was traced to a drum storage area that belonged to a company called E-Systems, which manufactured electronic components that produced a variety of toxic chemicals.
The underground plume contains 10 contaminants, including cancer-causing chemicals 1,4-dioxane and trichloroethene.
When Raytheon bought E-Systems in 1995, it inherited the pollution problem. But the company did little beyond monitoring it. The company and state officials knew in 1999 that the contamination had spread beyond company property, but residents of the Azalea neighborhood, just south of Raytheon, were not informed about it until 2008.
If that wasn't enough to anger Azalea residents, the delays to the cleanup plan have only made things worse, they said.
Griesi, president of the neighborhood association for the past 10 years, said residents are seeing diminishing property values, and they're worried about health problems that the plume might cause, despite health officials saying there is no sign the contamination is affecting residents.
"DEP and Raytheon need to work as partners in this," Griesi said. "I just want it cleaned up."
Richard Martin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8330.