Neighbors releases new chemical test results from the area surrounding an old mining site in Clay County

Neighbors releases new chemical test results from the area surrounding an old mining site in Clay County

The proposed Russell Ridge neighborhood and school board property are located within a three-mile radius of the former mining facility. (Sarah Henry/WUFT News)

The nation’s largest homebuilder has proposed plans to build townhomes on a property that borders an abandoned mining facility in Clay County that has a history of chemical contamination.

John Gislason, land acquisitions manager for D.R. Horton, is listed as the owner of the 78-acre tract located between the mining site owned by Stoneridge Farms and Russell Road.

Gislason bought the land from Stoneridge Farms, which previously owned the property, in March for $3.3 million, property sales records show.

The Clay County Development Review Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the proposed neighborhood, Russell Ridge, which would include 332 homes, a pond and a park area.

The meeting comes amid community concerns about continued chemical and heavy metal pollution. Residents of Russell Landing have worried for decades that pollutants from Florida Solite, a former clay mining facility, were contaminating their community, increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) tested it at the Solite site in April. The results showed elevated arsenic levels above the state’s soil cleanup target levels set for the property. However, FDEP did not collect samples from surrounding neighborhoods.

Katherine Craver, director of external affairs for the agency’s Northeast region, said at the time that there was no evidence of off-site contamination.

“It is important to note that based on soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water testing conducted to date, all known soil/sediment/groundwater contamination is within the property boundaries,” she said in July.

Because of what she called unexplained illnesses in her community and FDEP’s response, Clay County Commissioner Christine Burke helped organize a Solite task force to lead off-site environmental testing.

“We, as citizens, have taken it upon ourselves because we’re tired of being told there’s no reason to do more testing, we’re tired of hearing stories about people getting sick,” said Burke, who is also a Russell Landing resident.

The 13 sites tested by the Solite Task Force. (Courtesy of SOLT Task Force)

Tests conducted by Pace Laboratories in May and June, paid for by community members, detected lead, arsenic, chromium and other heavy metals at 13 different sites within a two-mile radius of the facility, according to results announced last week by Burke and the task force. Solo Task Force. The test did not include Gislason’s 78 acres.

However, like the FDEP test in April, Pace’s tests revealed that only arsenic exceeded enforceable residential and industrial levels set by the state.

Enforceable residential levels are more stringent than industrial levels. It is determined by how much exposure is safe for a child living at the contaminated site for 50 weeks of the year, said Leah Stochall, an assistant research professor from the University of Florida Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology, an FDEP consultant at Stoneridge Farms.

“Unfortunately, with arsenic, it’s a little difficult to know where it comes from,” Stochall said. “We know that Stoneridge Farms contains arsenic, and we know that arsenic is a problem.”

It could be left over from industrial practices or it could be from another source, such as pesticides, she said.

The community task force has had its findings since the summer but only released them at a press conference on November 5. Task force members said they wanted to wait for a formal meeting with FDEP before presenting it to the public.

Task force members met with FDEP staff in Tallahassee on Oct. 31 to discuss the findings. The ceremony was attended by Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs Jessica Kramer and officials from the Waste Management, Hazardous Waste and Legislative Affairs departments. Florida Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Sam Garrison, both Republicans from Fleming Island in Clay County, also attended the meeting, which was closed to the press and the public.

No representative from Stoneridge Farms was in attendance. D.R. Horton has no comment at this time, said Gislason, director of land acquisitions at D.R. Horton.

Bruce Reynolds, who serves as a technical advisor on the task force, noted that portions of the proposed Russell Ridge development would be about 500 feet from a wash pond on Sollett’s property where arsenic, barium, chromium, lead, acenaphthene and dioxins are found. It was found previously.

Burke and others also expressed concern about the Clay County School Board’s recent purchase in June — a 95-acre property less than two miles from the Sollett site. The district plans to build a school on the land to accommodate the growing population.

Task force members said they hope the new test results will prompt FDEP to conduct more comprehensive testing in the surrounding community.

FDEP did not have much immediate reaction to the meeting’s findings, Reynolds said.

WUFT reached out to Craver last Thursday about the agency’s next steps but is still awaiting a response.

“I think the information surprised them,” Reynolds said. “But we told them this is a top priority for us.”

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