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EPA tests apartment site for lead

The complaint was simple: Children were digging up old battery cases on the grounds of their apartment complex.

Now, federal environmental officials are testing to see whether high levels of lead may be contaminating the ground where the children live.

Next week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials will be at the Normandy Park Apartment complex at 11110 N 56th St. to determine what kind of cleanup actions need to be taken.

The 144 apartments are on what used to be Gulf Coast Lead Co., a battery breaking and smelting facility. Lead was smelted at the plant.

Chuck McPherson, the EPA's on-site coordinator, said based on previous reports, the site needs further testing.

"The lead levels are high, but not dangerous. There is no immediate threat to the people living there," McPherson said.

Gulf Coast Recycling, the former Gulf Coast Lead Co., still owns the land. Joyce Morales, environmental and health manager, said the company is working with the EPA to clean up the site.

"We plan to treat the lead with a cement-like material that will chemically stabilize the lead."

Morales said she first learned about the problem when the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission told her they had received an anonymous complaint in August 1991.

Gulf Coast Recycling took its own lead samples in December and turned the findings over to the EPA.

The company also had residents tested for lead poisoning.

Some residents showed low levels of lead in their blood and the EPA called in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"All of the residents' blood lead level is well within the acceptable range," said Chuck Pietrosewicz, senior regional consultant for the agency. "I don't see any reason for undue alarm on anyone's part. The mere fact that it is there doesn't mean that it is a threat."

Pietrosewicz said there are precautions that parents can take to protect their children.

"Things like having the children wash their hands before they eat," he said.

Any mud or sand tracked into the house by youngsters should be cleaned quickly, he said.

Lead poisoning can impede the growth of the central nervous system, putting children at a greater risk.

"It adversely affects children's bodily and mental development," Pietrosewicz said. "These levels are low enough that parents don't have any reason to be alarmed."

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