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State wants to know if all's well with water

Published Sep. 29, 2005

(ran PW PS editions of Pasco Times)

The Bureau of Environmental Toxicology plans on testing Bailey's Bluff wells for toxins from the nearby Stauffer Chemical Co.

Gaston "Bud" Antaya has been drinking water straight from his tap since 1978. That's the year he moved into his Bailey's Bluff home and sank his own well.

Antaya says he doesn't know if his water is contaminated by the nearby Stauffer Chemical Co.'s plant, now a toxic wasteland awaiting federal cleanup, because he has never tested it for chemicals.

Now he likely won't have to. The state Department of Health's Bureau of Environmental Toxicology plans to test private wells in Antaya's neighborhood for toxic chemicals associated with Stauffer's defunct Tarpon Springs plant. For 34 years that plant processed elemental phosphorus on the north bank of the Anclote River. When it closed in 1981 it left behind 130 acres laden with thallium, arsenic, mercury and other toxic wastes.

The health department already planned to test private wells near Pasco County's Moog Road drinking water well after recent tests there showed levels of thallium, a poisonous heavy metal, between four and seven times the legal maximum. That well has not been active since May 1998.

But the state has expanded its testing to include the Bailey's Bluff area at the request of state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey. The state will test 15 wells _ to be selected by the county health department _ for Stauffer-related contaminants and other chemical wastes, said Andrew Reich, a state health department official.

"We should start testing early next week," Reich said Thursday.

"We hope to be done by the end of the month."

When the Stauffer plant was added in 1994 to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's list of Superfund sites _ those chemical wastelands considered such a threat that their cleanup warrants federal oversight _ environmental officials warned that all groundwater wells within a 4-mile radius could be affected. Both the Moog Road well and the Bailey's Bluff neighborhood fall within that area.

At the time, environmental officials said that groundwater flow appeared to be to the southwest of the site, which would pull any contaminants away from the heavily populated Holiday area and into the Gulf of Mexico. But they warned that the exact direction of the aquifer was unknown.

Hydrologists with the U.S. Geological Survey in Tampa recently have said the underground water flow in the Holiday area tends to be sluggish and could be influenced by tidal action. Although contaminants from Stauffer would appear to have to travel uphill to get to Pasco, hydrologists say much of underground water flow is unknown and that little can be ruled out.

And that's why Fiorentino said she'd like to get some answers for Bailey's Bluff residents.

"We've gotten calls from constituents in the area who were concerned about radioactivity and drinking water," Fiorentino said.

Although the EPA's online database shows that none of the Stauffer-related contaminants have turned up in Pinellas County water systems above the legal limit, some of them have been detected in Pasco County drinking water three times since 1994, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Forest Hills utilities and the Colonial Manor water system both showed thallium in 1994 that later cleared up, according to DEP drinking water officials. Forest Hills also showed elevated levels of antimony, a heavy metal associated with ore-smelting and auto exhaust, that same year, according to the federal database.

Again, both of those private utility companies appear to be within the 4-mile radius of Stauffer, though environmental officials can't say whether those contaminants came from Stauffer or some other source.

Exposure to thallium can cause kidney, liver and brain damage; antimony can cause nausea, diarrhea and decreased longevity, according to the EPA.

Regardless of the source, help is available for the residents whose wells show elevated levels of contaminants. Those residents can apply through the DEP's Water Supply Restoration program to have a filter put on their wells or to hook up to a public water supply, said Tim Banks with DEP's Division of Water Resource Management.

"If it's a metal or a volatile (chemical) or a petroleum contaminant, we can come in there and fix it," Banks said.

But at 84 years old, Bailey's Bluff resident Antaya isn't too concerned.

"I'm surviving yet," he said with a chuckle.

_ Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is