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Tampa Neighborhood On Alert After Lead Warning

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Lead alert near battery recycling factory

Briona Arradondo reports.

TAMPA, Fla.

Hillsborough County air quality officials are cautioning residents near a Tampa factory not to spend a lot of time outside after monitors picked up on higher lead levels.

The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County has three air quality monitors in the vicinity of the Gopher Resources plant, a Tampa battery recycling plant on Jewel Avenue in East Tampa. The EPC said officials found two days in January that went over the daily amount allowed, so they issued an air pollution precaution on Feb. 17 until further notice.

According to a release, EPC monitors around the plant show that on Jan. 7, lead concentrations were 0.866 micrograms per cubic meter and concentrations were 0.293 micrograms per cubic meter on Jan. 29, bringing the monthly average lead concentration of 0.156 micrograms per cubic meter. The national ambient air standard is 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter. EPC’s air division director Reginald Sanford explained what the advisory means.

“For us, it’s not a simple project process where we can determine whether or not there is a real-time high level. But what we have to do is take the filters and process those filters that it takes a matter of days to do that process, which explains the delay in determining whether or not we have those high levels of January,” said Sanford. “So in light of the fact that one of the two days was virtually five times the standard, we felt it necessary to advise the public that we’re having high levels of lead emissions from around the area there.”

The air quality monitors are within about a quarter-mile of the site, so the EPC cautioned people who live and work near the plant to cut down on spending an extended period of time outdoors.

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“We do have periodic days in which levels are a little high. They’ve made improvements to make things better at the plant. We always address any type of issue that may happen at the plant,” said Sanford.

The EPC said in 2021 EPC staff initiated enforcement actions against Gopher Resources for air quality deficiencies within the plant. EPC has also increased its monitoring by adding random air sampling days to the required federal sampling schedule.

Lead is toxic and can make you sick if you breathe in or ingest enough of it, and the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said those that are most at risk are children under six years old.

Pregnant women are at risk because continued exposure to low lead levels can harm the baby, DOH officials said. For children, continued exposure to unsafe lead levels can cause learning and behavior problems, limited to human growth and development.

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Health department officials said the adverse effects of lead poisoning do not happen overnight but can build over some time and commonly reported symptoms include loss of appetite, sudden weight loss, vomiting, and constipation.

University of Florida environment and public health professor Eric Coker said it’s the long-term exposure that will have officials more concerned if levels don’t go back down.

“A single exposure or stepping outside your house for 15 minutes at those levels of lead exposure are not going to lead to health effects. I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty, but the idea is repeated exposures on a day in day out basis over a period of months and months and months. That’s where you could start seeing health effects,” said Coker, an assistant professor at the University of Florida in the College of Public Health and Health Professions in the Department of Environmental and Global Health. 

“It probably won’t be something that’s obvious just because these levels are not at the level where it would be acutely toxic. Acute toxic exposures to lead might happen or are known to happen in the workplace.”

EPC officials said the lead levels do not violate federal air standards, which would need to have high levels consistent over three months. The three-month average concentration for lead was 0.12 micrograms per cubic meter including the January data, so currently, the three-month average has not been exceeded.

The EPC will continue monitoring and run tests for February’s readings to see if anything has changed in the levels to update the advisory.

LINK: Read the advisory here

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