FLORIDA - Tests Show Area Tainted

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Tests Show Area Is Tainted

People living in the Westgate area are advised to take the usual precautions.

Friday, March 17, 2000 By RICK ROUSOS The Ledger

LAKELAND -- Although testing shows that chemicals and metals from two pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers have tainted the yards of some Westgate-area residents, the levels aren't high enough to worry federal officials.

High levels of lead, arsenic and the pesticide toxaphene have been found at the site of the Landia Chemical Co., Florida Favorite Fertilizers and the Wayman Street ditch, which begins at the Landia site.

Smaller quantities of the same contaminants have been found in soil on private property near the ditch. Those contaminants alone shouldn't pose a health hazard, Katrina Jones, a federal Environmental Protection Agency removal coordinator, said Thursday.

"My fear was the whole residential area was contaminated," Jones said. "That's not true. But I still consider there to be a risk in the area because of the site."

"My worst fear was that the yards were badly contaminated," she said. "Now I'm very relieved. We still have some problems, but it could have been worse."

An EPA report found the highest levels of off-site contaminants in the section of the ditch closest to the Landia site. Some dirt in yards that abut the ditch was found to have small levels of contaminants, mostly in homes along Beech Avenue.

The ditch makes two right-angle turns near homes on Beech Avenue, and higher levels of contaminants were found in the ditch there because the sharp turns acted as traps, said Gene Jeffers, an administrator with the Polk County Health Department.

The Landia site was operational from 1945 until 1987, with Landia owning it beginning in 1977. Florida Favorite Fertilizer has been using its facility in Westgate since the 1940s.

The Landia/Favorite Fertilizer site needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible in what is still described as a multimillion-dollar project.

"You always have the potential for runoff or kids getting in there," Jones said. She said she hopes the clean-up will begin in May.

Federal officials are negotiating the cleanup bill with Landia and Favorite Florida Fertilizer. Jeffers said a major concern during the cleanup will be dust control. He said that it won't do any good to remove contaminated dirt if it's blown all over the neighborhood.

People living in the neighborhood, about a mile west of downtown, should take the same precautions they've been doing all along, officials from the county Health Department say. Those measures include avoiding the ditch, washing hands before eating and not drinking water from wells in the area.

Dr. Daniel Haight, director of the Health Department, said his staff is organizing an educational program for firefighters, paramedics and other health care providers who may have to deal with people who have been exposed to dangerous metals and pesticides.

) 2000 The LedgerQuestions? Problems? Suggestions? http://www.theledger.com/local/local/17west.htm

-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 17, 2000

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