About Air and Water

Monday, November 19, 2007

Toxic waste to be shipped by rail to West Texas from NY

By SCOTT STREATER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Sat, Nov. 17, 2007
Tons of toxic waste dredged from the Hudson River in New York are about to be shipped by rail to a disposal and storage site in West Texas.

General Electric Co. has chosen Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists to bury tons of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its waste disposal facility in Andrews County, on the New Mexico border. The decision is expected to be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The PCBs, which are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents, were dumped in the Hudson River from two GE plants. The pollution covers 40 miles of the river north of Albany, making it the largest federal Superfund hazardous waste site in the nation.

Beginning in May 2009, about 81 railcars will make the 2,200-mile trip to West Texas each week. Federal regulators, and officials at GE and Waste Control Specialists, say that transporting the waste by rail is safe. The exact route is not likely to be made public.

"If you look at the statistics, no matter what type of hazardous waste you're transporting, it's the safest way to do it," said Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington.

Waste Control Specialists officials say that once the toxic materials are buried, they will stay there forever.

"What gives this site a position of strength for this type of disposal is that it's sitting on a very solid, thick clay formation that holds the waste in place," said Chuck McDonald, a company spokesman.

But others disagree. Cyrus Reed, a lobbyist with the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, said he's not as worried about the railcars as he is about the disposal at the West Texas site. He said the state has never adequately studied whether the site is suitable to hold the waste.

"We believe if you're going to grant permits for additional waste to come in, you better make darn sure that none of this stuff ever reaches the aquifer below," Reed said. "We're not sure there's sufficient monitoring to make sure that doesn't happen."

Toxic cleanup

The contaminant

Polychlorinated biphenyls are industrial coolants and lubricants banned from manufacture in the U.S. in 1977. PCBs can damage the lungs and liver and are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents.

The plan

The toxic materials to be sent to Waste Control Specialists beginning in 2009 are the first from a two-phase Hudson River cleanup plan. The first phase involves the dredging and transport of 265,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment -- the equivalent of more than 17,000 dump-truck loads. The contaminated sediments will be spread out in lined landfills and covered with compacted clay and a synthetic liner. The larger second phase, which involves dredging and transporting 2 million cubic yards of sediment, would begin in 2011, said Mark Behan, a General Electric Co. spokesman. The total cost of the cleanup: $700 million.

The site

The Waste Control Specialists site in West Texas is one of only about 10 authorized to dispose of PCBs, said Kristen Skopeck, an EPA spokeswoman. The state also recently granted a draft permit to Waste Control Specialists to store tons of radioactive waste from a long-abandoned Ohio uranium-processing plant at the site.

Toxic cleanup

The contaminant

Polychlorinated biphenyls are industrial coolants and lubricants banned from manufacture in the U.S. in 1977. PCBs can damage the lungs and liver and are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents.

The plan


The toxic materials to be sent to Waste Control Specialists beginning in 2009 are the first from a two-phase Hudson River cleanup plan. The first phase involves the dredging and transport of 265,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment -- the equivalent of more than 17,000 dump-truck loads. The contaminated sediments will be spread out in lined landfills and covered with compacted clay and a synthetic liner. The larger second phase, which involves dredging and transporting 2 million cubic yards of sediment, would begin in 2011, said Mark Behan, a General Electric Co. spokesman. The total cost of the cleanup: $700 million.

The site

The Waste Control Specialists site in West Texas is one of only about 10 authorized to dispose of PCBs, said Kristen Skopeck, an EPA spokeswoman. The state also recently granted a draft permit to Waste Control Specialists to store tons of radioactive waste from a long-abandoned Ohio uranium-processing plant at the site.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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