Official: UF prepared to clean up landfill

Former students claim water contamination

Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 8:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
The University of Florida is prepared to remove contamination from beneath a former landfill if state environmental regulators deem such steps necessary, a university official said Tuesday.
"We want to be good citizens," William Properzio, director of UF's division of Environmental Health and Safety, said during an interview at his campus office.
"If we have a problem out there that the landfill, you know, is creating - groundwater contamination that needs to be remediated or whatever - we're going to take action on that."
The assertion follows a week of news reports that have raised questions about the university's past chemical waste disposal activities.
On Sept. 22, two college roommates announced plans to sue the university for dumping hazardous materials in two former UF-run landfills, used from 1964 to 1968 at SW 34th Street and Hull Road.
The students, Gay Webster of Tallahassee and Catherine Duncan, 44, of Sugarloaf Key, claimed chemicals dumped in the landfills contaminated drinking water pumped to the nearby mobile home they shared between 1977 and 1978.
Both women, a third roommate, and at least six past and present residents have developed cancers some attribute to drinking tainted well-water, lawyers representing Webster and Duncan have said.
University officials have acknowledged that some chemical dumping may have occurred at the landfill sites but have never confirmed what types of materials were discarded. The landfills, UF has said, were used primarily for the disposal of solid waste.
Still, while tests of private wells have never confirmed the presence of volatile compounds in area drinking water, numerous groundwater studies, including a recent investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, have detected elevated levels of unnatural toxins in the Floridan Aquifer, including benzene, arsenic and radiological material.
The DEP's report, released Friday, is the first time in nearly two decades of studying the site that UF's historical dumping activities have been linked to current groundwater contamination.
"As a result of this report, we know now that the UF chemical disposal site is the source of groundwater contamination," said Jill Johnson, a DEP spokeswoman for the northeast district.
"Based on the results of the assessment, we will determine what remediation the university needs to do."
Johnson said DEP will request a meeting with UF officials in coming days to discuss chemical identification and remediation strategies.
Patrice Boyes, a Gainesville lawyer representing the former students, said that she was encouraged by both DEP's and the university's suggestions that a cleanup of the site may be in order.
Her clients have both said their lawsuit is aimed at forcing the university to take responsibility for the landfill and its pollution, not at financial gains.
"We'll look for nothing less than a full cleanup - we'll take a wait-and-see approach," Boyes said. "But we've seen nothing on paper yet. If all they are going to do is another site study, we're going to proceed with our suit."
Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or greg.

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