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Tampa Lead Factory Faces $518,000 Fine for Environmental Violations | FRONTLINE | PBS

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A Tampa lead factory now faces $518,000 in additional penalties after a two month inspection by local environmental regulators. The inspection was initiated by aTampa Bay Timesinvestigation.

Sterlin Woodard said that if the case was closed, the penalty against Gopher Resource will be the most severe in the history Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission’s history.

After the April election, Gopher was under extensive inspection by county regulators.TimesinvestigationDetailled dangerous working conditionsInside the factory. The countyMany of the newsrooms’ findings were confirmed by probe.

Continue reading:POISONED: Part 1 – The Factory

The federal penalties imposed in September also apply to the actions of these commissions. Gopher will face $837,000 combined in fines.

The county is under investigationMore than two dozen violations were foundGophers’ failure to report mechanical problems that could increase air pollution. The inspection was completed by regulators in June. They have been working since to reach a settlement.

The county released its proposed fines and consent orders late Friday night in response to a request for public records from theTimes. The draft order describes the county’s findings about Gopher. It found that Gopher allowed toxic particles to build up in its factory, altered its ventilation without regulatory approval, removed exhaust Hoods meant to capture fumes, allowing poisonous gases to escape into work areas.

The county found that Gopher left problems with mechanical components that could lead to pollution unattended for years. Sulfur dioxide emissions rose to levels so high that workers had no choice but to evacuate the factory’s wastewater treatment facility.

The county proposed thatGopher consultants are available to assess the ventilation system and to implement technology that would notify regulators of any issues.

According to the draft order, the system must also report any data irregularities that could indicate that equipment has been modified.

This system could have alerted regulators about hazardous conditionsGopher years were earlier.

Continue reading:POISONED Part 2: The Failings

Woodard declined to comment Saturday on the consent order because of ongoing negotiations with Gopher.

In a statement toTimesGopher said that it had cooperated with county regulators, and is committed to following regulations. The company claims that its emission levels are still well below federal standards.

According to Gopher Resource, they have a strong and long-standing working relationship with Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, the statement stated. We intend to continue to engage with EPC to address and solve outstanding matters.

Gophers Tampa’s factory is the only Florida lead smelter. It extracts lead from approximately 50,000 car batteries per day and melts it down to create new metal blocks for sale.

The 1967 creation of the county commission oversees Gophers emissions.InThe local air quality standards are enforced for lead and other chemicals. The plant is located in the east Tampa area, near Kenly Elementary school. This area includes single-family homes as well as industry. Nearby residents are predominantly people of color and many are living in poverty.

Gopher has paid $226,000 to the county for air pollution violations since it purchased the factory 15 years back. Current proposed $518,173Penalty is more than twice that amount. The latest penalty to be levied on the company in response.Timesreporting.

The Occupational Safety and Healthcare Administration was established in September.Gopher was fined $319,000 following a six-month investigation into worker safety at the plantMany of the other factors were confirmed.Timesfindings. The agency’s fifth inspection found that Gopher would intentionally expose its workers to high levels in the airborne lead.

Read more: OSHA Fines Tampa Lead Factory 319,000

Gopher knew lead dust was building up in the factory. However, workers were not provided with adequate protection as lead levels rose to hundreds of thousands of times the federal limit. Many people had dangerously high levels of metal in their blood. This put them at risk of serious health problems. Others brought toxic dust home with them and exposed their children to it.

TimesInitial investigations at Gopher Resource took reporters 18 months. Reporters finally succeededInterviews were conducted with more than 100 former and current workers. They were able to access company documents that regulators have never seen.

TheTimesFound aThere are many reasons why high levels of exposure can occur.. Gophers’ complex ventilation system, which had been in place for many years, was not functioning properly. The company disabled or turned off key features that were meant to capture fumes within work areas. It also moved slowly inside the plant to fix equipment malfunctions.

Continue reading:POISONED: Part 3 – The Fallout

See Also
Collapsing equipment on the site of the Potter Hill dam and mill on the Westerly-Hopkinton border. Federal officials and environmental groups wanted to get rid of the dam, which one powered the mill, but locals balked and now the project is stalled.

Later, theTimesThe company’s practices were documentedPut the environment and community around you at risk. Gopher leaked too much lead into the atmosphere, released contaminated water to the Palm River, and mishandled dangerous waste.

TheTimesGopher also showed that it took steps to lower its emissions during times when county regulators were monitoring community air for lead. In response,County regulators began testing on a random schedule and launched another investigation into this company.

The inquiry is ongoing.

This story is part a collaboration with Tampa Bay TimesFRONTLINEs Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Corey G. Johnson, Investigative reporter, Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times

Rebecca Woolington, Investigative reporter, Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times

Eli Murray, Data reporter, Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times

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