Sep 02, 2003

Health Problems Blamed on a Florida City's Wells, Arsenic

Some tainted wells, old landfills and Coronet Industries are being named as the culprits of Plant City, Fla., residents' failing health. Residents of the city located near Tampa are wondering if the old phosphate plant may be responsible for illnesses in the area.

After testing the wells, only one showed arsenic levels that were "higher than normal," reported an article in the Orlando Sentinel. Forty-three private wells were tested, and results came back showing that just the one have elevated arsenic levels, which was high enough for officials to handout bottled water but are not high enough to raise cancer risks.

Earlier this year, state health officials released a report hinting that the water may be causing some of the health problems, but never actually proved anything. It prompted, however, a year-long investigation. Cancer rates in the area--particularly those closest to the plant--are similar to the state's average.

Still, the residents are blaming the arsenic levels on the plant.

Coronet has been in the city for years, but residents think of it in a negative light. In 1997 and 1998, the company "illegally discharged millions of gallons of polluted wastewater into a local creek," reported the Sentinel's article, which left the company with a bad environmental reputation in this town.

The company claims that it is not responsible for the health issues and called the accusations "unfair and premature." It also reported that since the company has only owned the company since 1993, the handful of other companies the owned it dating back to 1908, would have been the responsible parties. The company also was cited as saying that the environmental laws were much different then than they are now.

The Coronet plant has been turning phosphate into chicken-feed additives for decades.

Long-term exposure to arsenic is proven to result in health effects such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and reproductive problems.

In the United States, approximately 3,000 (or 5.5 percent) of the nation's 54,000 community water systems and 1,100 (or 5.5 percent) of the 20,000 non-transient non-community water systems will need to take measures to lower arsenic in their drinking water. Of the affected systems, 97 percent serve fewer than 10,000 people.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 13 million people in the U.S. alone routinely drink water containing arsenic at concentrations greater than allowed under recently established government standards. The EPA’s arsenic rule requires treatment for all drinking water and industrial wastewater with arsenic levels greater than 10 parts per billion (ppb), by January 2006. This represents a dramatic decrease from the current standard of 50 ppb.