Article Courtesy of The Ledger
By Suzie Schottelkotte
Published March 23, 2017
LAKELAND -- A lawsuit against the Drummond Company by residents in
Lakeland's Oakbridge and Grasslands communities, which Drummond developed,
unleashed a flood of interest Wednesday in the allegations that radiation levels
at the 1,362-acre property are unsafe.
Neal O'Toole, a lawyer at Lilly, O'Toole & Brown in Lakeland, said he fielded
more than 100 calls and emails after news broke about the federal lawsuit.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said
Wednesday, "but we have been inundated. I haven't been able
to get back to a lot of them."
Marsha Sherouse, who's lived in Oakbridge for 10 years, was
among those who wanted to know more.
"I definitely want more information," she said. "I want
everyone to know and be aware that we have this situation.
It appears the evidence is there."
Sherouse said she and her husband, Neil, ordered radon kits
Wednesday to determine the radiation levels in their
"We are very concerned about the possible health issues," she said. "It's quite
possible we will join the lawsuit."
Others, though, aren't to that point.
John Snapp, president of the Oakbridge Homeowners Association and Stonewater
Homeowners Association, said he and other in the associations haven't become
involved with the litigation yet.
"No one has approached us about it," he said, "and none of us is a party to the
lawsuit at this time."
He said that may change as the litigation progresses, but at a homeowners'
meeting Tuesday night, members said they wanted to wait to see where it goes.
The class-action lawsuit, filed by Oakbridge resident John J. Jerue, who goes by
Jeff, claims Drummond knew the land was contaminated after it had been mined for
phosphate, but failed to tell prospective buyers about the risks. A class-action
lawsuit has to be certified by the presiding judge before everyone in that group
is included. Everyone in the class is automatically a part of the suit, unless
they opt out.
Residents of Grasslands, Oakbridge sue Drummond Co. over
Environmental groups sue federal agencies over effects of
phosphate mining in Central Florida
seeks to force Drummond to clean up the land, provide medical monitoring for
residents and pay unspecified punitive damages for failing to disclose the
Drummond hasn't responded to requests for comment. No hearing date has been set.
The lawsuit claims the radiation exposes residents to the equivalent of a chest
X-ray a day.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa by four law firms
with offices in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C., along
with the Lakeland firm.
The lawsuit refers to numerous documents from local, state and federal health
and environmental agencies that identified problems related to radiation in the
land dating to 1978, the year Drummond purchased the active phosphate operations
there. The company continued to mine the land until 1982, when it shifted its
focus to developing the multi-use communities of Oakbridge and Grasslands.
The site, straddling Harden Boulevard just north of the Polk Parkway, totals
nearly 1,500 homes and several commercial centers, including Lakeside Village.
Jerue said Wednesday he recognizes the lawsuit could affect property values in
the development, including his own, but he didn't think he had a choice.
"Now that we know, what should we do — just sit here and be exposed to this
stuff?" he asked. "If this was something Drummond didn't know, it's one thing.
But from what I have read, they knew."
Among the reports referred to in the lawsuit is a 2011 letter to the federal
Environmental Protection Agency that was signed by five Florida members of the
House of Representatives regarding plans to conduct flyover surveys of developed
land that had been mined for phosphate.
The letter, signed by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican whose
district includes the Drummond communities, sought advanced notification of any
aerial radiation surveying or testing, and questioned the need for it given the
studies conducted by the Florida Department of Health.
The letter also noted the phosphate industry's significant role in Florida's
The lawsuit stated that pressure from the phosphate industry and elected
officials caused the EPA to abandon its study in 2014.
On Wednesday, Ross responded to the issues raised in the lawsuit.
"The 2011 letter I sent to then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had absolutely
zero to do with the case or the community mentioned in the aforementioned case
and recent news reports, nor am I party to or involved with the case
whatsoever," Ross wrote an email. "Furthermore, the flyovers at issue in my 2011
letter were not conducted over the community mentioned, but instead near the
Coronet site in Plant City.
"My 2011 letter had a very strict and narrow purpose: to request information
about the unannounced and dangerous low altitude aerial flyovers conducted by
the EPA without any notice to the public or local, state, and federal officials,
which the EPA is required to do," he said. "This letter was in response to
numerous fearful residents in my district who called my office asking for
answers and help after sighting the low flying aircraft over their homes.
"In fact, multiple reports from 2016 stated the flyovers were not conducted
for any environmental concern," he said in Wednesday's email. "These reports
indicated the EPA's motive for its flyovers was to provide payback favors to
Morocco for donating millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary
Clinton was Secretary of State."