Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tallevast water treatment leaks

Tallevast water treatment leaks

Residents see polluted water spill onto ground

Fire trucks were called to Tallavast on Sunday as a leak was reported at the beryllium plant near the children's center.  Photos taken by Wanda Washington, resident.
Fire trucks were called to Tallavast on Sunday as a leak was reported at the beryllium plant near the children's center. Photos taken by Wanda Washington, resident.

Polluted water in a treatment system leaked and filled secondary containment before residents of the beleaguered neighborhood said they heard and saw it pouring over the top onto the ground Sunday.

When reported to emergency services at about 1:30 p.m., fire and environmental personnel rushed to the site at the former beryllium plant, 1600 Tallevast Road, turned off the treatment system and sucked up 6,000 gallons of water behind a high metal containment wall for transport to a state disposal facility.

The beryllium plant is the source of a leak of toxic chemicals that has spread underground over 200 acres.

A spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Corp., which is responsible for the cleanup of the underground plume, said late Sunday "there was a leak in the groundwater treatment plant," but that no toxic water had escaped outside containment.

Two community leaders said they had photographs to prove the water had escaped and, as they stood about 10 feet from the containment wall, the weight of the water behind it bowed the wall out and worried them that it might give way and spill onto the grounds of the Tallevast Community Center adjacent to the treatment site.

As part of the initial cleanup, Lockheed is pumping contaminated groundwater through a treatment system and then discharging the treated water into the county sewer system.

The breach gave rise for two Tallevast residents to a greater question of whether the massive cleanup of the toxic plume was being done safely.

With another Tallevast resident, Wanda Washington, at Wal-Mart developing photos of the water "overflowing at a very rapid rate," according to Ward, the situation was called "a possible health hazard."

Lockheed's Gail Rymer said late Sunday the incident would cause the corporation to look at the treatment system that failed and improve it.

The treatment system will remain turned off, she said, until it is understood what happened and fixed.

The water that escaped into containment, according to Lockheed's Rymer, was "contaminated water" pumped up from the toxic plume underneath Tallevast, and was going to be treated. She called it "pre-treatment water."

Added Rymer: "The cause of the leak has not been determined. But we have begun a thorough investigation of the incident to determine the cause. The treatment center will remain shut down."

She said the company called for the state Department of Environmental Protection to send pumper trucks to the site to suck up the contaminated water inside the containment perimeter. Two trucks came, observers said, loaded the water and drove it to Lakeland for disposal.

An official with the DEP in Lakeland did not return a phone call.

Ward, who lives down the street from the treatment site, said another resident alerted her.

"From the street, you can hear the water running over the wall," Ward said.

At the site, she described what she saw as "water coming up to be treated, and running over the wall."

She said the overflow was then running back down to the ground.

Ward and Washington are officials of FOCUS, a residents' advocacy group in Tallevast.

Rymer said a Lockheed engineer at the site said there was a small area of discoloration of the outside of the metal wall, but that he and others found the ground outside the wall to be dry.

Ward and Washington hurried to the site before calling emergency services.

After documenting the situation, the pair called for a quick response.

"I was just concerned it could be a possible health hazard," Ward said.

Two Manatee County fire engines came to the scene, and one firefighter shut off the system.

Asked if any official at the site had said to her that there had been a toxic spill, Ward said, "No one said that."

Told Lockheed Martin said the treatment water had been contained inside the secondary catch wall, Ward said, "No, that's not the case. We saw it coming out over the wall. The containment wall was actually bent from the weight of the water."

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