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Raytheon's new report doesn't calm St. Petersburg neighbors

During a community meeting at Raytheon in St. Petersburg on Friday, Matt Cohen asks Raytheon executives whether he should follow through on plans to purchase a house even though contaminants have been found on the property. 

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

During a community meeting at Raytheon in St. Petersburg on Friday, Matt Cohen asks Raytheon executives whether he should follow through on plans to purchase a house even though contaminants have been found on the property. 

ST. PETERSBURG — After years of being kept in the dark, about 700 residents concerned about the toxic plume migrating off a Raytheon Co. facility packed a community meeting on Friday night to hear the results of the latest site assessment report.

Due this weekend to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Raytheon's report concluded that there is "no threat to public health," said Bob Luhrs, Raytheon senior manager for remediation programs.

"The potential for exposure is extremely limited," Luhrs said. "The risk is low to negligible."

Raytheon completed the report after weeks of testing more than 200 private irrigation wells and a year of assessing the plume underneath homes west of the Tyrone area. Officials from the DEP, the Department of Health, the city and the county were also at the meeting.

The report's finding did not satisfy many of the residents, who were also upset with how Raytheon has handled the situation.

"I'm disappointed. It was just trying to make everyone feel good," said Dominick Griesi, president of the Azalea Neighborhood Association. "Half the people left. That says they don't feel they got answers to their questions."

Discovered in the early 1990s, the contamination originated from a drum storage area at the facility when it was owned by E-Systems. After Raytheon inherited the problem with its purchase of E-Systems in 1995, the company spent years monitoring the pollution.

Since 1999, state regulators have known the plume was moving off Raytheon's property, but many residents in the area did not find out about it until late March. Some residents have since filed a class-action lawsuit against Raytheon.

Azalea resident Kathy Swerediuk was especially angry, questioning Raytheon officials about the brain tumors she and her husband were diagnosed with. Were they connected to the toxic plume migrating off Raytheon's property? she asked.

"Who is responsible?" she asked. "You say there's no health risk, but you can't guarantee that. We're not total idiots."

Other residents were concerned about how the plume would affect home values.

"I'm mad as hell," said Geneva Forrester, a Jungle Prada resident. "I don't want them here. They've proved they're a dangerous neighbor."

Some also questioned why they weren't told for so long and what kind of action would come next.

The orange trees attracted Jim and Kathy Armstrong to the area. They moved to the neighborhood last year but have stopped eating the fruit since they found out about the plume.

"We have a lot of questions we'd like to get answers to," Jim Armstrong said. "We absolutely would have not moved here if we had known about this."

Griesi believes it's time for Raytheon and the DEP to take action.

"I think they need to be honest," Griesi said. "People in public service are responsible to the citizens that pay their salary, and no one did anything, whether it was a lack of concern or just passing the buck. We need action. We don't need any more talking or people sitting behind desks just shuffling papers around."

Raytheon and the DEP would do well to remember the impact to the residents, said state Rep. Janet Long, D-St. Petersburg.

"People should keep the pressure on in terms of this getting taken care of," Long said. "I think they will. It's the health and welfare of their families. If it was your home, what would you do?"

Dagny Salas can be reached at dsalas@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8275.

Raytheon's new report doesn't calm St. Petersburg neighbors 05/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2008 12:29am]
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