Target 8: State, feds knew of high radiation levels before thousands of Polk homes went up

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Concerns about high levels of radiation on reclaimed phosphate mine land were expressed decades ago by Florida and federal officials, but thousands of houses went up in Polk County anyway.

The EPA considered the issue so serious a decade ago, it suggested, as an option, relocating people living in Oakbridge.

Now, a lawsuit filed in federal court claims the Drummond Company never informed home buyers that their properties tested high for radiation.

A lawyer suing Drummond said for some reason, the EPA walked away from the issue.

Some of the homes in Grasslands sit by a golf course.  It’s what beneath them that causes concern.

“The gamma radiation is the main contaminant right now,” said Richard Meadow, a lawyer suing the developer of Grasslands and Oakbridge.

The two developments sit on what used to be the Poseidon mine, owned by Drummond.  The mine was shut down, the property reclaimed, then Drummond developed the property with beautiful homes.

Target 8 found decades old documents express concern about building on the reclaimed mine land.

A 1980 Polk County Health Department letter to Drummond said, “a significant number of the homes built on this property will probably have indoor radiation levels greater than the recommended federal guidelines.”

“We’ve gone through the neighborhood with our own detectors and found it, the high levels,” said Meadow.

In fact, attorney Meadow claims some radiation levels are 400 times higher than EPA guidelines.

“The gamma radiation is the main contaminant right now,” added Meadow.  He stated some tests were conducted as recently as two weeks ago.

A 2003 EPA document shows, “most urgent is a subdivision of about 500 homes built over an older phosphate mine….that left behind higher amounts of radioactive waste.”

That subdivision is later identified in the document as Oakbridge.

Fourteen years ago, the EPA estimated more than 40,000 homes, housing 120,000 people, were built on reclaimed phosphate mine lands in Polk County.

Despite concerns, development proceeded.

“I don’t want to throw stones, but the state has not taken an aggressive position,” explained Meadow.

He said it also appears five Florida Congressmen, Dennis Ross, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Richard Nugent and Thomas Rooney, urged the EPA to back off.

They all signed a 2011 letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson expressing concerns that the EPA’s proposed aerial radiation surveys of the area, “creates a significant risk of placing an unjustified and permanent stigma over thousands of acres of land.. and will have a negative impact on our phosphate, tourism, real estate and development industries.”

Congressman Ross issued a statement that said the 2011 letter requested information about unannounced, dangerous, low altitude EPA aerial flyovers that were frightening the public and had nothing to do with the communities mentioned in recent news reports.

The lawsuit, which at the moment, represents only John Jerue of Lakeland, is seeking class action status.  Meadow states the goal is to get Drummond to pay to relocate people, monitor their health, pay for the loss in property value and fix the problem, which means digging up contaminated soil and replacing it.  The estimated cost for remediation is $50,000 to $700,000 per dwelling.

He states people who are concerned should have their property tested for radiation levels.

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