Cold War nuclear contamination sites still litter Tampa Bay region

Published Oct. 30, 2013

More than 500 nuclear contamination sites from the Cold War era — some of which may never be cleaned up — are detailed in an investigative piece and database by the Wall Street Journal. Florida contains 10 sites, from a former nuclear trigger plant in Largo to a fertilizer plant in Bartow and a uranium recovery plant in Riverview.

Federal officials told the Journal that they have taken measures to protect the public health and that the sites do not pose a threat.

But the newspaper found that Energy Department documents are so "spotty" that the agency does not know whether certain sites still need to be cleaned up. The feds admit they do not know the addresses of some sites.

Here's a quick look at some Tampa Bay area locations:

• The site with the highest public profile is the old General Electric plant that made triggers for nuclear weapons at Bryan Dairy and Belcher roads in Largo. Part of the site was used for disposal of organic solvents and metals, but Pinellas County officials say there is no radioactive contamination. The site is now home to the Young-Rainey Science, Technology, and Research (STAR) Center — which includes the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a prominent business incubator.

• Near Bartow, the former Armour Fertilizer Works site attempted to recover uranium from phosphoric acid but found the method inefficient. A 2011 government report found "little potential for significant residual radiation."

• Near Riverview, another uranium recovery plant run by Gardinier Inc. is closed and now sits on property controlled by Mosaic Co. Mosaic told the Journal that the facility was disposed of more than 50 years ago "in keeping with prevailing regulatory requirements" and shows no sign of any residual contamination.

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An ambitious project to transform Tampa Bay into a health care innovation hub continues to gain momentum. At a briefing on "MediFuture 2024" — a forward-thinking multiday conference on health care innovation set in Tampa for next June, Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. chief Rick Homans and health care experts with the Oliver Wyman consulting firm outlined an aggressive agenda to lure top medical and "big data" IT firms to the bay area with the promise to test advanced services that improve care at less cost.

Tampa Bay spends $25 billion on health care. Oliver Wyman partner Tom Main says $5 billion could be cut by advancing best practices.

"We want to be the next Silicon Valley of health care," Main said, adding that his firm would not get involved in such a project without being confident the Tampa market is big enough and has all the right stuff to make it happen.

It may prove a challenge of perception. So far, the phrase "Silicon Valley of health care" has been touted by Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Indianapolis and even the United Kingdom.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at