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Sewage cited in illnesses

The Warren, Drees and Martinez children of Hillview Court all have had sore throats and coughs this year. And their mothers say the county is to blame. Specifically, they blame an overloaded sewer system that carries the waste from about six subdivisions through their suburban neighborhood. They blame a 4-month-old pump station that was supposed to guard against odors, but apparently didn't.

And they blame county employees who, they say, ignored their complaints for years.

"Our cul-de-sac has children with chronic respiratory problems," said Maria Warren, speaking at a town meeting Monday night. "We're not going to wait until our children are in the hospital."

Warren was among about 35 residents of the Hillside and Shadow Bay neighborhoods who met with Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura and Public Utilities Director Michael McWeeny at the Brandon Recreation Center.

The residents talked of sewage spills, noxious breezes and even illness that they think is caused by the sewage fumes escaping either through manhole covers, the pump station, or both.

Tammy Hubbert, who moved to the neighborhood in March, said her husband suddenly has come down with pneumonia.

Seventh-grader Kathy Jahnke said she and her friends have had to move to a new corner to meet their school bus.

Carolyn Mashburn, a 14-year resident of the neighborhood, said she has been sick at least half the time she has lived there.

"It's an embarrassment," said John Harris. "When you're standing out and mowing your lawn or sitting by the pool, it stinks. You open your glass door and it comes into your dining room."

None of the residents showed any documentation to prove that the fumes were making them physically ill. Warren said that her children's doctor had blamed their problems on the sewer odor. But she would not name the doctor, saying she did not want to involve him in the dispute.

McWeeny, speaking after the meeting, said he doubts that the amount of hydrogen sulfide in the air could be anything more than "a nuisance."

But he and Chillura did promise to take some steps to solve the problem. The utilities department already has a six-month plan to reroute a main sewer line away from the homes.

Monday night, Chillura said he would seek a rapid approval for the project from the state Department of Environmental Regulation.

But McWeeny said he cannot be sure that the rerouting project will correct the problem.

Meanwhile, McWeeny is encouraging residents to report any odor problems by calling 272-5068 during the day, and 685-1376 at night and on weekends.