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Expedite study to assess health risk

It seems there is always more news about the abandoned Hernando County Department of Public Works site in south Brooksville.

More contamination.

More bureaucratic foulups.

More fines.

More delays.

It seems the only thing there's not more of is a sense of urgency to determine whether the hazardous chemicals dumped on the ground over a 30-year period may have spread beyond the 5-acre site and onto the property of nearby residents.

Times staff writer Asjylyn Loder reported last week that a consultant has found more than twice as many polluted "hot spots" on the site than the county already knew about, and a state Department of Health official said it probably will be months before a decision will be made whether to test the soil in those neighbors' yards. The decision to undertake a so-called health risk assessment would be made only after it reviews a complete report from the consultant, whose failure to turn it in on time last week also could cause the county to be fined.

While it is understandable that the data must be analyzed, residents should not have to wait months to find out what risk, if any, the polluted site poses to their health.

This type of methodical, but excruciatingly slow, approach to the problem has typified government's response to cleaning up the site, which has been contaminated with varying amounts of arsenic, toluene, benzene, lead paint, pesticides, asphalt and petroleum products.

The county has spent more than $1-million on consultants and cleaning up the site. Yet, the cost has been minimal, and the progress negligible, when one considers that the site was first investigated for contamination in 1992.

No matter how you look at it, that response is inadequate and everyone, not just residents living near the site, should be alarmed at their government's inability to decidedly rectify a potentially dangerous situation.

Making matters worse is reasonable speculation that the problem has dragged on because the site is in a neighborhood where most families subsist on incomes well below the poverty level. That's why the public works maintenance facility was located there in the first place in 1955; the predominantly African-American community was even more socially and economically disenfranchised at that time than it is now.

It has taken far too long, but the county, through the more comprehensive work of its new consultant, Creative Environmental Solutions of Brooksville, appears to be moving forward on this protracted problem. One way to continue that momentum would be to urge the state Department of Health to expedite its evaluation of the consultant's report and determine as soon as possible if a health risk assessment is warranted.

The people whose well-being may have been compromised by their government's actions, and subsequent inaction, have waited an extraordinarily long time for that answer.