By KARLAYNE R. PARKER firstname.lastname@example.org
PLANT CITY – The well water at Ken and Tammy Simmons’ home east of Coronet Industries hasn’t been tested by the state.
But they aren’t taking chances.
Mindful that health officials have found contaminated wells near the phosphate processing plant, the Simmonses get their drinking water from a Lakeland relative’s home.
They periodically haul three 5-gallon jugs of water back to their home on South Wiggins Road. The family stopped drinking from their well about six months ago, so the water they bring in is a precious commodity.
“We have to more or less ration it,” said Ken Simmons, 44. “We drink it and make tea.” But to bathe and brush their teeth, “We have to use regular [well] water,” he said.
The Simmonses aren’t alone.
State health and environmental officials are investigating whether Coronet or two old landfills have contaminated wells in the area.
Some residents who live nearby are looking for alternative sources of water. Officials started testing wells after residents near the animal feed supplement plant complained of rampant illness, particularly cancer, in their neighborhoods.
Officials have not confirmed that the illness rates are unusually high in the area or that Coronet or the old landfills are responsible for the reported environmental contamination.
The 20 or so homes where health officials have confirmed well water contamination are now receiving free water from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Possible long-term solutions include the extension of water mains from Plant City into the Coronet area, just south of city limits. There has been no decision on an extension.
For now, those whose wells haven’t been tested or who are uneasy about their water are on their own for alternatives.
Some are buying bottled water.
Others have investigated buying water filtration systems that may eliminate the contaminants that health officials have found in some wells: lead, arsenic, boron and cadmium.
Davina Johnson and her family, who live near the Simmonses on South Wiggins Road, buy their water at the supermarket.
“Our water has tasted fine, but it is kind of scary,” said Johnson, 32. “As far as bathing, what can you do? We don’t have a choice.” The Simmonses say their well water is discolored and cloudy.
Ken Simmons attributes the deaths of several family pets to what he thinks is contaminated water from his well.
Several salesmen have come by his home making a pitch.
“They wanted $3,000 to $6,000,” said Ken Simmons, who is on disability. “We are low income. We can’t afford that,” he added.
Johnson said that she has seen numerous signs advertising water purification systems throughout the east Hillsborough County community.
“I see the signs at the stop signs,” she said. “But it could be pretty expensive to do on your own.”
Water purification sales representative H.L. Huster said that he hasn’t sold anything since he started working in the Coronet area more than a month ago. His system he sells costs about $3,000. He said that it eliminates the contaminants found in some wells.
“I’ve talked to 15 or 20 people,” he said. “Basically, it’s come down to waiting and seeing. These people in this area don’t have a lot of money.”
“They are waiting to see what the county is going to do,” he said. Katie Bridges, who also lives on South Wiggins Road, said she continues to use her well.
“We’ve lived here since 1972, and we’ve been drinking it,” she said.