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Residents fuming over smelly drinking water

When Jeannie Weaver turns on the tap at her house, gasoline-like smellfills the air. She can't drink the water, but she still has to bathe in it. She worries about her house being condemned, or worse, blown up.

The smell is getting stronger.

The water from her well, along with those of about 20 other residents in the Thonotosassa area, is contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals, according to studies by the county Health Department. Government agencies are working to correct the problem, but Weaver is worried that they are taking too long.

"They say it will take a couple of months, but they've been saying that since last July," Weaver said. "I can go out and buy drinking water, but I feel like I'm washing in gas.

"I'm concerned about my health and everyone else's," she said.

The affected homes are near the intersection of Fowler Avenue and U.S. 301.

The chemicals found in the water are benzene, a compound found in gasoline, and tetrachloroethylene, a cleaning compound, said Phil Jones, environmental health director at the Health Department.

The source of the contamination has not been determined. While many of the neighbors felt gasoline may have been leaking from a local service station, tests conducted by the county Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) found no visible evidence of leaks from that source, said Robert Lue, assistant director of the waste management program at the EPC.

The EPC has turned the problem over to the state Department of

Environmental Regulation (DER). DER officials were not available Wednesday to comment on the progress of the investigation.

The problem was first discovered in 1988, when the fumes at one of the homes became so bad that the owner, Louise Hooper, could no longer live there.

Mrs. Hooper's family contacted the EPC, but the home had been so badly contaminated that it was condemned by the Health Department.

Mrs. Hooper was forced to move out.

"The water had so much gas in it, you could back a car up, pump that water into it and drive it away," Jones of the Health Department said jokingly.

To correct the problem of the contaminated wells, the DER asked the Temple Terrace Public Works Department to run city waterlines to the homes.

Richard Dickhaus, city engineer for Temple Terrace, said officials are in the planning stage, and the project should be completed around May or June.

Cost of running the waterlines to the homes will be paid by the state environmental Superfund, which is handled by the DER, Jones said.

In the meantime, health officials have warned Weaver to keep her bathing and other water use to a minimum, she said.

"It gets to the point where they don't want you to flush your toilet. If it gets that bad, they'll condemn the property and make us move out. I don't want it to get to that point."

"But I'd rather move out than get blown up."