Anywhere but here

aaenergynet’s bookmarks tagged with “wiki” on | 07/17/2007 | Anywhere but here

Anywhere but here
A Tallevast woman says her contaminated home has sickened her family for years
TALLEVAST, 7/12/07–Zasue Pitts-Alston and her son, Bobby, in their home in Tallevast. Zasue’s drinking water well was just yards away from the source of the Tallevast plume and had the highest known concentration of TCE with the community.
TALLEVAST, 7/12/07–Zasue Pitts-Alston and her son, Bobby, in their home in Tallevast. Zasue’s drinking water well was just yards away from the source of the Tallevast plume and had the highest known concentration of TCE with the community.
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Options are running out for Zasue Pitts Alston.

The 72-year-old production-line worker who recently lost her job is about to lose her home, which is right next to the former Loral American Beryllium Co. plant, source of a 200-acre plume of underground toxic contamination.

Last week, Alston learned state health officials have finally confirmed a link between her polluted well, which is just 5 feet from the beryllium company’s fence, and an increased risk for cancer.

“The stress is awful,” Alston said, clutching her stomach with her hands. “The doctors say I have a mass in my stomach but they don’t know what it is. They say it’s nothing to worry about, but I don’t believe them.”

One fact is for sure: Alston and her 50-year-old disabled son, Bobby, have to move, the county says, because their dilapidated home at 1712 Tallevast Road is an unsafe structure.

The county sent notice on March 30 to Alston’s brothers, Charles, Art and Wyman Pitt of Sarasota, who own the home, advising them they had 60 days to bring it up to code or tear it down.

The 60 days ran out on May 28.

But building officials are being lenient, says Cheri Coryea of Community Services, because she is trying to find somewhere for Alston and her son to live.

Coryea said the county is also aware of the state’s findings that Alston and her family may face a moderate to high risk for kidney and liver cancer as well as leukemia and lymphoma because their private well is the most contaminated in Tallevast.

The house Alston and her son occupy was one of the small, frame structures built between 1910 and 1925 to house the black workers who stripped the pine trees in Tallevast family’s turpentine camp.

Nestled together among the pines, the workers’ small homes were painted red and known as the Quarters.

Alston grew up there, then moved away when she married Mathew Alston, Jr.

The Alstons returned home in 1979 when Zasue’s father fell ill. Her mother had already died of cancer. Zasue doesn’t remember the details but she said it affected her mother’s colon and she died a painful death.

“Some part of my family has been in the home ever since,” she said. “We have been living here all of the time the beryllium plant was open.”

And most of the family from every generation including Alston’s grandchildren have had cancer, serious illnesses, neurological conditions or reproductive problems, she said.

After hearing the state’s report, linking prolonged use of contaminated drinking wells with increased risk for cancer and other chronic and neurological disorders, Alston fears her family’s ill health could have been caused not only by the well water they drank but also the chemical spills she says flowed into her yard with every hard rain.

Until the mid-1980s, no one in Tallevast had public water. When the county lines were installed in 1986, the Pitts’ home was connected along with other homes on the south side of Tallevast Road.

Prior to the public water hook-ups, the beryllium plant relied on a small wastewater treatment facility consisting of a pumping station and evaporation pond to treat all of the wastewater streams coming from the plant, according to state records.

Alston remembers how that pit often overflowed in heavy rains. She recalls her children playing in runoff as it collected in the ditch that runs along the property line next to the plant.

“They stored barrels of something on the lot line,” said Alston. “The water would flow from the plant into our yard right over our well. Even when we got county water, nobody told us to stop using the well for the grass and garden.”

Lewis Pryor, who has also lived in Tallevast all of his life and is a neighbor, also remembers how heavy rains would cause the evaporation pool to overflow.

“All that waste would wash into Zasue’s yard,” Pryor said.

“Somebody told mother way back in 1974 that the water was dangerous, that we shouldn’t play in it, ” Alston remembers. “It stank like sulphur and had a chemical smell.”

The water also caused rashes, Alston said. Her son, Bobby, has been plagued by a raw, scaly skin condition they believed is related to the well water. He, too, has stomach problems.

The county’s goal, Coryea said, is to find someplace safe for Alston and her son to live.

But the problem is, Alston does not fit into the eligibility requirements of the county’s housing assistance programs.

The home and property is valued at $26,767 but even if the structure is torn down, a new house most likely cannot be built on the land because of the contamination problem, said Coryea. Even though Alston owns a lot nearby in Tallevast on 18th Street East, she doesn’t qualify for housing assistance money to build a new home on that parcel.

Alston’s only hope, said Coryea, is to find a place to rent through one of the county or private subsidized housing programs. But all of them have waiting lists or else they are too expensive for Alston to afford.

“I can’t afford $800 in rent,” said Alston. “I don’t know what we are going to do.”

The fact that Alston insists her son Bobby must go with her makes finding affordable housing even more difficult, said Coryea

“We haven’t given up on this,” Coryea said. “We are not going to put her out on the street. We are still looking for alternatives.”

But Alston is certain about one thing. She does not want to remain in Tallevast.

“I don’t know how much longer I have to live on this Earth,” said Alston. “But I don’t want to die from what’s under the ground. Leaving here would give me peace of mind.”
Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049.

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