BRADENTON -- Officials from the Department of Environmental Protection were on the witness stand on the eighth floor of the Manatee County Judicial Center to discuss the latest cleanup plan for the plume of contamination in the groundwater below Tallevast.
At the same time, a Miami doctor was on the phone with Department of Health officials in Tallahassee to discuss the community health assessment he has recently completed in the tiny community dating back more than 100 years.
This day was 10 years in the making and likely does not signal the end, but perhaps it signals a beginning for the residents who have agitated for help for the past decade.
The medical assessment is expected to show whether there is a disease or cancer-cluster in Tallevast as residents have long-suspected. That report is expected in coming weeks or days. A draft has been completed, but Dr. Janvier Gasana, who has reviewed the medical records of nearly 90 percent of the residents of Tallevast, has asked for an extension to turn in the final report. If the extension is granted, the report will be completed in early July.
The court case, which is expected to last into next week, will show whether a 48-year cleanup plan is the best Lockheed Martin can be expected to provide. Residents challenged Lockheed Martin’s Remedial Action Plan and are hoping that the company will be forced to cleanup the groundwater and soil faster and more safely than is currently proposed.
Lockheed Martin contends it is “committed to restoring the environment, continuing to work with the Tallevast community, and is actively defending the RAP Addendum,” according to a statement released Tuesday. “The challenge hearings are scheduled to complete the first week of July and Lockheed Martin looks forward to receiving the court’s ruling.”
The case began last week and continued on Tuesday as Jeanne Zokovitch Paben, the attorney representing Tallevast residents, questioned Simone Core, an engineer with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, about the remediation plan and the contamination.
Core, who has worked on remediation plans for contaminated sites in the agency’s waste cleanup section, testified extensively about the engineering necessary to cleanup contaminated sites and about the levels of toxins that would indicate contamination in the groundwater.
Tallevast residents, who challenged the cleanup plan prompting the administrative hearing, were in the courtroom hanging on every answer and responding in whispers, sighs, assertions and doubts.
The residents were particularly concerned about the levels of vinyl chloride, Trichloroethylene or TCEs and 1,1,-dichloroethene or 1,1,-DCE in monitoring wells and in clay and sand zones in certain monitoring wells.
Residents fear that extracting water from certain wells could cause even greater environmental damage and possibly lead to contamination of the Floridan aquifer. In addition, they fear that the methods could lead to a spill of contaminated groundwater in their community, similar to a spill in 2008 from a leak at a small water treatment facility at the site of the former Loral American Beryllium Co. at 1600 Tallevast Road. Alarms that should have gone off didn’t. Residents found and reported the spill to DEP, according to Core’s testimony on Tuesday.
One of the largest concerns among residents is that it is expected to take 22 years to clean up the surficial groundwater alone and a total of 48 years to cleanup all of the groundwater.
Lockheed Martin is currently working on a plan to build a water treatment plant on the site. The company, which has already torn down the old buildings at the site, has proposed pumping the contaminated plume of water out of the ground at 200 gallons per minute -- or nearly 300,000 gallons a day -- treating it and pumping it back into the ground. At that rate company officials estimate it will take 48 years to clean all of the contamination from the groundwater.
“The Tallevast Remedial Action Plan Addendum was approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Nov. 5, 2010,” according to the statement. “Lockheed Martin personnel went to great lengths to include the community in the development of the RAP; one which incorporated the requests of the community, is protective of human health and the environment, and ultimately returns the groundwater to drinking water standards.”
As both the court case and the health assessments are completed, the coming weeks could determine the future for residents who have long said that the groundwater contamination caused a disease and cancer cluster in their community and that they don’t want to wait another five decades to get rid of the contamination under their homes.