Special Reports

Scientist warns of Tallevast dangers

TALLEVAST - The toxic plume under Tallevast could be far more dangerous than Lockheed Martin Corp. and government agencies admit, warns a nationally known environmental scientist.

The health risks and property damage could extend far beyond Tallevast, predicts chemist Wilma Subra, a technical adviser for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

Subra reviewed environmental reports on Tallevast at The Herald's request.

Lockheed declined to comment on her findings in an e-mail to The Herald.

"Subra's comments are subject to interpretation," said Meredith Rouse Davis, Lockheed spokeswoman. "Instead of addressing third party comments submitted through the press, Subra is welcome to submit her detailed comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for review and consideration. We will continue to do everything in our power to properly address the environmental conditions relating to the former American Beryllium Co. facility. We will continue to follow state protocol; if more sampling is needed, the state will request it."

Davis declined further comment.

Lockheed officials have contended all along that the plume stemming from the former Loral American Beryllium Co. plant poses no threat to Tallevast.

Residents believe the toxins and discharges from the facility are responsible for widespread illnesses and deaths within the community.

The plume, residents say, has devalued their property, making it difficult to sell or remodel their homes or obtain financing to do so.

Lockheed, which bought the plant in 1996 and was owner when the contamination was first discovered in 2000, has repeatedly defined the plume as too small and too deep to affect property value or the health and safety of the residents.

The Herald asked Subra to review Lockheed's data to shed light on those disputes.

Expert knowledge

Over her career, Subra has provided pro bono technical assistance to more than 500 fenceline communities, primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods threatened by discharges and pollution from nearby industry. She was one of the investigators in the Love Canal incident in New York.

In 2003, Subra won the Volvo for Life Award for her work on behalf of residents of Diamond, La., located next to a chemical factory.

Her volunteer technical assistance helped to establish that dangerous emissions from the chemical plant caused respiratory illnesses and high rates of cancer among Diamond's 300 residents. Her efforts helped to relocate residents after receiving above-market-value compensation for their homes.

Subra is president of Subra Co., an environmental testing firm in New Iberia, La. She has served on advisory committees for the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House and has given presentations to U.S. Senate and House committees.

Her resume includes work for the National Cancer Institute, the Gulf South Research Institute and other academic institutions. She has taught at the secondary and university level.

Subra has no connection to Tallevast or vested interests in any of the parties involved.

Relocation justified

After poring over Lockheed's 15-pound Site Assessment Report Addendum 2, Subra said she disagreed with the defense giant's conclusion that the plume is too small and too deep to pose a public health threat.

"No, this is not a small plume. It is a dangerous plume," Subra said. "It is very deep in some places and very shallow in other areas, and it is under a residential neighborhood.

"If they don't consider the contamination residents were exposed to from drinking the well water, they will miss everything," Subra said.

Moreover, Subra said, Lockheed's data fall short of defining the plume and instead raise more questions on how and where the toxic spill is migrating underground.

Subra suspects - as does Lockheed - that there are multiple sources of the plume. If so, she warned, those additional sources must be considered in any remediation plan.

Even though Lockheed's data are incomplete, existing well samples and tests contained in the Lockheed report, Subra said, absolutely justify Tallevast residents' demands for relocation.

And that relocation area, Subra warns, could extend well beyond Tallevast once the full extent of the plume is known.

Any relocation discussion and resolution, Subra said, must occur before state regulators approve Lockheed's plans to remediate the plume to make sure all of the property owners and residents affected are included.

Conclusions not supported

Lockheed is proposing to remediate only the contaminated area under the former beryllium plant, operated by Loral American Corp. from 1961 through 1966.

Levels of toxic waste throughout the residential area, Lockheed said, are not high enough to warrant remediation and will eventually be taken care of by natural attenuation.

Subra said Lockheed's own data does not support that conclusion.

If the state accepts Lockheed's cleanup plan, Subra warned, the company will have no obligation to run more tests to further define the plume.

"If they are going to contend that they are going to do only natural attenuation, there is an argument to be made that they don't have to do anything more to delineate the plume. All they have to do is monitor it, and they will contend they have enough wells to do that," Subra said.

Subra pointed out that Lockheed doesn't have enough wells now to provide sampling over a long enough period of time to know the true nature of the plume.

"Monitoring wells are missing in the northwest corner of the residential area," Subra said. "If Lockheed does not look at that area, it is missing a host of other issues."

Some homeowners in that northwest quadrant have wells that have tested positive for trichloroethylene, or TCE, yet those homes are drawn outside of the plume area as defined by Lockheed's tests. TCE is an industrial solvent that has been linked to cancer, nuerological problems and lower birth weights in humans.

Those homes are just blocks away from a sewer line on 17th Street Court East that Lockheed has identified as a preferential exposure pathway, meaning contaminates could use the route to come to the surface.

The Lockheed report says data collected contradict that finding because tests found only low levels of contamination.

Subra said the sewer line problem cannot be dismissed so easily. She said Lockheed must determine exactly what is going on with that sewer line before it can be dismissed as a potential exposure pathway.

More tests needed

When Tallevast drinking and irrigation wells were found to be contaminated one year ago, Manatee County ran temporary water lines to those households affected so they could stop using their wells.

The county wants to move quickly to replace those temporary lines with permanent water connections.

Subra warned that no county lines should be put into that area until more testing is done around that suspect sewer line to determine whether it presents an exposure risk.

And that testing, she said, must be done on a quarterly basis to determine how seasonal changes affect migration of the plume.

Subra also said Lockheed cannot dismiss vapor intrusion from soil contaminants such as TCE just on the basis of one 24-hour period of testing done by the state at four sites near the plant.

Because areas of TCE contamination have been found at 10 feet below the surface in some areas of Tallevast, the possibility of vapor intrusion cannot be dismissed she said.

Not enough monitoring wells have been drilled to determine where the plume might be branching off at different levels, Subra said.

'A dynamic situation'

Subra is concerned how the pumping action of private wells may have affected the migration of the plume.

Those wells may test differently when they are in use or not in use because it is the pumping action that can draw the contaminants to the surface, Subra warned.

Lockheed's data were collected after residents were told to stop using their wells.

"They may test differently," Subra warned, "because you wouldn't have the draw. It may be that migration pattern has changed. Somebody needs to be looking at what the plume would look like when all of the pumps were running."

Subra suspects the deep well at a golf driving range on the grounds of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport may be drawing the plume toward that area.

"The issue is that the wells may be serving as a conduit for the contamination to go deeper and the vapors to rise," Subra said. "This is a dynamic situation here and that is why I said they do not have enough information to say they don't have a problem."

She suggested restarting the wells and running tests after they have been in use for a while - after moving residents out of the area.

Vapor tests are absolutely necessary throughout the area of the plume, Subra said, and even in a buffer area beyond the boundaries of the plume, once the configuration is known.

After reviewing the vapor intrusion study report state health officials submitted of the 24-hour test run in August 2003, Subra questioned whether the samples were analyzed in a timely manner after they were collected.

She believes enough time passed for the volatile gases collected to dissipate.

Subra also questions the timing of the tests that were taken after residents stopped using their wells.

"If you are going to do exposure tests, you need some sort of method to determine what vapors were coming up when the well was being used," Subra said.

The ideal situation for vapor testing, Subra said, would be to move residents who had drinking water and irrigation wells out of the their homes, turn the wells on along with the showers, dishwashers and sprinklers and then do the tests.

Outdoor vapor tests are necessary as well, Subra said.

Lockheed has not done any of its own vapor tests, but is relying on the state health officials' tests.

Subra questioned why Lockheed had not done vapor tests over the sewer line on 17th Street Court East, which its own tests indicate as a potential exposure pathway.

Soil data incomplete

Lockheed's soil data is also lacking, Subra found.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions about the soil," Subra said. "Hopefully when the community finishes its independent testing, it will be clearer."

Lockheed's tests have found arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene, a known carcinogen, in soil samples, but those chemicals, Lockheed has concluded, do not come from the beryllium plant site.

While arsenic is found in Florida soil, Subra said, those naturally occurring levels are lower than what Lockheed found in Tallevast.

"These levels exceed criteria, and Lockheed needs to take the responsibility to remove this stuff," said Subra. "It is very important that they consider this when they do a health investigation."

That health investigation, Subra said, must include an assessment of historical risk exposures as well as current and future exposure risk. A door-to-door historical health survey of Tallevast households should be part of that assessment process, she said.

Current and future exposure risks must be weighed in determining future land-use of the site, said Subra, who warned against construction or development that may create new pathways for the contaminants to escape to the surface.

Subra said she suspects that once the true nature of the plume is known, a large area of land may be off-limits for deep construction or large buildings.

Government inaction

After analyzing the report, Subra said she was astounded that local and state regulators allowed this situation to happen. She questioned why Lockheed would have purchased the facility without doing its homework.

Lockheed purchased the beryllium plant in 1996 in a corporate buyout of Loral. When Lockheed was preparing to sell the property in 2000, an environmental audit revealed a broken sump that had leaked cancer-causing chemicals and industrial solvents into surrounding soil and groundwater. Although Lockheed informed county and state environmental officials about the plume, residents did not learn of the toxins in their backyard until late 2003.

Lockheed is responsible for cleaning up the mess because the contamination was discovered when it owned the facility.

"Why no due diligence on Lockheed's part?" Subra asked. "Why didn't the county and state act when they learned of the problem in 2000? They should have evaluated the problem and required the company to take action. This happened in 1996 and 2000, not 20 years ago when we didn't have procedures in place. This should not have happened in 2000."

Wanda Washington, vice president of the community advocacy group Family Oriented Community United Strong (FOCUS), said Subra confirmed what Tallevast leaders have been saying all along: The plume threatens residents' health and safety, and residents should be relocated.

Both the county and the state have liability in this situation, Subra contends.

More than 200 Tallevast residents filed a negligence and trespassing complaint on Sept. 1 against Lockheed, Loral Corp., Wire Pro Inc., WPI Sarasota Division Inc., the company now operating out of the old beryllium plant, and BECSD, the Florida holding company that currently owns the site.

No legal actions have been taken against Manatee County or state agencies, but Tallevast attorneys last week asked county commissioners to agree to extend the statute of limitations to give residents more time to consider whether to pursue action against the county.

Commissioners denied that request.

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049 or at dwright@HeraldToday.com.

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