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Raytheon's Florida Neighbors Sue Over Water Contamination

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, May 05, 2008 11:54 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: TCE, Toxic Substances, Environment, Defective and Dangerous Products,

Raytheon denies that its St. Petersburg plant has contaminated drinking water of a neighborhood.



IMAGE SOURCE: WikiMedia Commons/ Raytheon Missiles on display, Paris Air Show, 2005/ author: David Monniaux


The city of St. Petersburg, Florida is sending out letters this week to about 150 homeowners living within the boundaries of the so-called Azalea neighborhood, which appears to be contaminated from underground wastewater seeping from the Raytheon Company plant.

So far, two class action lawsuits have been filed and the state has given Raytheon until the end of the month to come up with independent laboratory testing on the water from wells in the area. If confirmed, the company has 90 days to issue a cleanup plan.

The defense contractor and electronics manufacturer is located at 1501 72nd Street North in St. Petersburg, near a residential neighborhood and parks.

Groundwater contaminants include vinyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane, and trichloroethylene, all of which are considered carcinogenic. 

In a class action lawsuit, filed by IB member, Joe Saunders for Linda Swartout and her husband John, residents contend that discharged toxic chemicals into the groundwater created an unsafe and undesirable level of toxins underneath and around the Azalea Neighborhood, impacting health and the market value of their homes.  

Residents irrigate their lawns with the toxic water as well as breath the airborne toxins in the neighborhood and the suit contends that “a toxic plume of industrial waste is coursing through groundwater under the Azalea neighborhood, beneath parks, playgrounds and hundreds of homes in and around the Azalea neighborhood.”

Contamination includes 30 to 60 times the safe level of 1,4-dioxane, which the suit says can cause kidney and liver damage and death; unhealthy levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) which can cause liver and kidney damage, impairs immune system function and causes reproductive disorders and skin rashes; as well as 1,200 times the safe level of vinyl chloride, a potent carcinogen associated with an increased risk of liver, brain and lung cancer.

That is the same chemical that earned Mountain View, California’s Raytheon plant a spot on the Superfund Cleanup list in the early 1980s for extensive groundwater contamination. 

The news about the groundwater contamination spread throughout the St. Petersburg neighborhood after media reports about the toxic plume surfaced. 

Bill Rutledge takes his three children to Azalea Park across the street from Raytheon Co. 

"Before, I figured Raytheon was a good thing for the community," Rutledge said. "Now I feel like I'm living next to a toxic waste dump."  Rutledge, who lives west of the area of St. Petersburg  learned last week that his irrigation wells are tainted by the water migrating from Raytheon’s property and heading west toward Boca Ciega Bay.  

Rutledge along with neighbor, James Orr, is in the process of moving out. Orr has had his 22-month-old daughter tested for chemicals even though a Raytheon test result, as well as a lab test conducted by the St. Petersburg Times, came back negative.

The same can’t be said for Bill Rutledge whose water shows levels of TCE, at 43 parts per billion.  

Raytheon spokesman George Rhynedance wrote to the St. Petersburg Times in an email “Area drinking water has never been, and is not, an issue,”  even though six wells do exceed the standards set by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for Florida.

Rhynedance says “These well do not supply drinking water and are not a threat to health if used for irrigation purposes.”

Six homeowners have been contacted and asked not to use their irrigation wells, even to water their lawns, at least until the end of the month when the final report is due.

For 17 years the DEP has been aware of pollution at the site that runs in an area defined as bordering 22nd Avenue N to the north, Ninth Avenue to the south, 68th Street to the east and 76th Street to the west. Raytheon bought the St. Petersburg facility in April 1995 from E-Systems, which committed to cleaning up under the DEP.  

Since 1996, Raytheon has been testing wells on the site using a third party, Arcadis.   

A final report must be issued to the DEP by May 31st but DEP documents show during 2007 that groundwater still exceeded cleanup standards in the nearby areas. 

Attorney Joe Saunders of Saunders & Walker P.A. says the cleanup, which will be supervised by the DEP will take years during which time residents worry about their health consequences and cannot sell their homes.

He tells IB News “On a personal note, just across from the Raytheon plant in St. Petersburg is Azalea Park where children play and young families spend time together.   I can't help but wonder how Raytheon officials can look out their windows day after day for 17 years, see children play and not be bothered by the knowledge that they may be causing irreparable harm to children and families.  I don't understand that.”  #

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