At the heart of a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year against the developer of a couple of upscale Lakeland residential communities is whether living on reclaimed phosphate mines is hazardous to residents’ health because of radiation emissions.
The latest chapter in this debate played out this week at a public meeting in Lakeland in which residents were reassured by scientists and technical experts from the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Industrial & Phosphate Institute that the radiation hazard was practically non-existent.
The firm that filed the lawsuit and the plaintiffs in the case see things differently, relying on a paper trail stretching back to the 1970s that appears to demonstrate health and environmental officials raised concerns when these developments were being reclaimed and undergoing development review.
Interestingly, the main potential health issue that was raised at the time in press reports was the presence of an old city dump. That facility dated from the days when there was little regulation on what kinds of waste could be dumped and there was no thought of installing liners as there are in modern landfills to protect groundwater.
How this lawsuit will play out is a matter for the judge and the jury– if it gets that far–to decide.
Another lawsuit that made similar claims regarding developments in the Bartow area was filed in the state court system decades ago. It was dismissed.
If this suit is not dismissed, the implications are interesting.
There are many residential developments all over western Polk County where residents potentially face the same health threat—if one can be established—and could be the focus of additional lawsuits.
This has regional implications as well.
As mining continues to expand in other Florida counties, the potential effect on the health of residents living in future developments that would occur after mining and reclamation have occurred is an issue that is difficult to ignore until the claims in the current lawsuit are resolved.
There are related economic issues, including the impact of any verified claims on real estate values and, by extension, on the local tax roll. The impacts are unknown at this point.