County Report: Dangerous Work Conditions at FL Gopher Plant

The new report by the Environmental Protection Commission (“ECP”) Hillsborough County shows multiple egregious violations and problems within Gopher Resource, LLC. The Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission published an EPA Level 4 Investigation of Gopher Resource Tampa Plant on June 30, 2021, and found 14 allegations that are considered violations of the air pollution permits and regulations were essentially, classified as follows:

  • 8 dealing with poor operation, maintenance, and design of the fugitive capture and ventilation systems
  • 3 were associated with poor operation and maintenances of the Process and Hygiene Baghouse Shaker Systems
  • 3 associated with SO2 emissions from the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP)

The same report shows that lead emissions from the facility were found to be significantly higher on February 25, 2020, when compared to previous measurements taken after March 23, 2016. All of this information points to the fact that Gopher Resources is exposing workers and the community to lead.

Moreover, the EPA Toxic Release Inventory data suggest that Gopher reported emissions of more than 33,000 pounds of lead into the atmosphere from 1988 to 2019.  But the self-reported emissions estimates in the Toxic Release Inventory often underestimate true emissions.

ECP observed visible emissions confirming that various chemicals reached life-threatening levels in the furnace department and lead-laced dust was blanketing the floor in the furnace department. Gopher failed to correct the poor operation of the air pollution sources and their air pollution controls for years. We are outraged with the new County report highlighting was Gopher has really been up to.

Gopher is owned by Energy Capital Partners (ECP). ECP failed to manage Gopher and lost complete control of the insidious violations. Three people that work at ECP are also on the board of Gopher: Tyler Reeder, Chris Leininger, and Drew Brown. Despite ECP owning and thus likely having much insight into the dangerous working conditions, they clearly failed to take remediation measures.

The County report also acknowledged that AMEC Foster Wheeler completed several reports for Gopher, some of which failed to provide recommendations for major improvements. The report verified emissions escaping. The Report also outlined how the ventilation system was ineffective and of a poor design and led to lead-dust accumulation on surfaces, and increased risk of elevated lead blood levels in workers and that the Hygiene Ventilation System had lost 30% of its capacity due to tramp air.

Napoli Shkolnik, Swope Rodante P.A., Ben Crump filed a lawsuit on behalf of a family against a local smelting plant whose poor ventilation and ineffective respirators failed to protect workers, and by extension their families, from poisonous levels of toxins.

The complaint was filed against Gopher Resource, LLC, and Envirofocus Technologies, LLC in the State of Florida for Hillsborough County. It alleges that Gopher did not fix necessary ventilation features or fix faulty mechanical systems, leaving workers exposed and wearing respirators that could not protect them when dangerous levels of lead spiked.