Water-Related News

EPA aims to finally knock out Lake County’s Tower Chemical Superfund site

EPA's Superfund is mounting a project costing as much as $18 million to turn the ground beneath Lake County's Tower Chemical site into a massive rock.

A local company that brewed bug killer for the region’s formerly robust citrus industry used DDT as an ingredient. That recipe at Tower Chemical spit out an unwanted mess, including dicofol, another pesticide, and a nasty concoction, DCBP. The deadly, discarded stuff, all in the greater DDT family, was flushed into a pit dug into an old sinkhole that percolated way down to the Floridan Aquifer. The pollution, exacerbated by a burn pit, churned along for more than 20 years until Tower Chemical was shuttered in 1980. Its owner, a Lake County environmental authority, fled the country.

In 1983, the defunct plant was added to the nation’s list of hazardous sites that, having no responsible party on hand, were eligible for restoration by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. Tower’s history is storied, including from when a spill lethally poisoned a path to Lake Apopka. But EPA officials are dialing up an enormous and costly project they hope will put the plant’s legacy to bed. It’s all suddenly possible thanks to cash from last year’s federal infrastructure act.

“We’ve spent about $9 million out there so far,” said Rob Pope, EPA’s project manager for the Tower Chemical site, referring to years of investigation and removal of poisonous top soils. The next step could cost as much $18 million, a figure that might have remained beyond reach indefinitely. “I don’t have a time for when it would have been funded without the infrastructure act,” Pope said.

The 15-acre Tower Chemical site is midway between Winter Garden and Clermont, in Lake County just west of Orange County and a jog north of State Road 50. Until the start of this century, the Tower Superfund property was a weedy, rural setting next to a quiet blacktop, County Road 455. In several stages of studies and cleanups, EPA removed soils soaked with pesticide constituents and covered the area with a layer of clean dirt 12 feet deep. A scattering of neighbors were unplugged from well water and hooked to city water. With the immediate dangers of Tower Chemical addressed, the site’s infamy as a horror show of liquid death faded.