contaminated 14 million gallons of groundwater at the site, area farmers joined together to form Citizens Against Chemical Dump Sites. They vowed to close the dump. The group contends that the operation of the waste site never was proper. “When you compare the methods of operation with the representations they made in their [TECO’s] early engineering reports,” says Charles Thompson, a Corpus Christi attorney hired by the farmers, “you’ll see that there’s very little resemblance.” Area residents recall that they were assured repeatedly by both TECO and the water resources department that there never would be an odor problem. But it wasn’t long after the plant opened that foul smells from the waste became commonplace. “I was planting in the spring of 1974,” Ahlrich says, “when I got sick at my stomach and I vomited. I went over to the foreman at the site. I told them I was going to file for an injunction. Right after that the president of the company called me. He asked me to give him time to clean up the odor, which I did. But they didn’t do anything.” The experience of 67-year-old Frank Bradshaw who owns a farm just south of the landfill has been similar. He says that the odors make it all but impossible to work outdoors: “There’s many a day that I’ve drove my tractor with a handkerchief over my . face. You’re out there and all of a sudden you get sick, my friend . ” Of all who have been affected by the site in the Robstown region, the hardest hit are probably Remigio and Rachel Gonzales and their three children, who live northwest of TECO, directly downwind. In the intensely hot South Texas summers, prevailing air currents carry a stench so nauseating the Gonzaleses must either abandon their home altogether and stay with relatives or enclose themselves inside with the windows shut, doors closed and fans turned on. “I have a small air conditioner in my room,” adds Mrs. Gonzales. “Sometimes we all gather in there.” From the first, efforts by the Texas Air Control Board to monitor TECO for air problems and control its odors have been so appallingly poor they almost invite ridicule. Under the state’s Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1969, the water resources department is required to “consult” with the air control board before granting a permit, but it is hard to tell whether this requirement was properly fulfilled in the case of TECO. A Feb. 5, 1980 memorandum on file with the air control board states: “There is no record of [the air control board] commenting on or reviewing the original permit issued in 1972.” Jim McManus, an attorney for the water resources department, insists that all state agencies received a notice stating that the Robstown site was being considered for certification. Cecil Bradford, director of the compliance division of the air control board, isn’t sure: “We looked in our files here and in our regional office in Corpus Christi,” he said. “We couldn’t tell if the application had come to the air control board. The problem is that we get pounds and pounds of paperwork required by statute and we didn’t have the enforcement staff to go through it.” Despite the air control board never having participated in the original licensing process, one clear provision of the permit issued by the water resources department is that “all rules and regulations of the Texas air control board must be satisfied.” Officials with the air control board have stated publicly that the odors from TECO haven’t been that bad. The air control board records reflect only ten complaints between early 1973, when the site first began accepting wastes, and July 1979 when the dump came under renewed attack by local residents. “I’d say they are a good operation,” Tom Palmer, district supervisor of the air control board’s Corpus Christi office, told the Corpus Christi Times last summer. “They have impressed us by being very cooperative . . . .” But consider the experience of Mrs. Gonzales who first called the air control board in December 1973. “1 haven’t counted the times I called to complain,” she says. “They would come and would talk to the manager at the site. Then the people at the site would tell the air pollution board that it wouldn’t smell at the end of the week. But they never made TECO stop and after a while I felt like a fool.” Of course, air control board officials admit they never bothered to survey the plant or conduct unannounced inspections until recently when TECO began to draw unfavorable publicity. In addition, the odors from the pits haven’t conformed to the nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday bureaucrat’s schedule. Robstown farmers say they may suffer through a bad night with the intention of complaining in the. morning, but more often than not the change in weather conditions causes them to change their minds. An October 1977 letter to TECO officials from the air control board about odor problems confirms that nearby residents of TECO usually experience the worst misery at night. “Complainants are being bothered primarily at night. We feel that the nocturnal atmospheric _inversions are trapping the odors and causing them to build up in a small area around your facility at night.” Of course, by 1977 this had already been the case for years. Consider this file report on a complaint telephoned in by Mrs. Gonzales to the air control board on Aug. 13. 1975: “Mrs. Gonzales stated that a chemical odor coming from Texas Ecologists had been real bad for the last day or two. She said the odor was worse at night, and that the odor still existed but [was] not quite as bad during the day. She said her husband was kept awake most of the night by a headache caused by the odor.” It’s worth noting that techniques used by the air control board to check out Mrs. Gonzales’s complaint were not exactly state of the art. Again from the report: “The area downwind from Texas Ecologists near the complainants home was traveled by The department of water resources requires commercial waste disposal sites to report only the kinds, not the actual amounts, of wastes processed. And what limited state records’ are kept have huge gaps. For TECO, the best available summary of the Robstown site’s contents is for the year 1976, when over 100 different wastes, ranging from liquid-based acids to oily sludges to organic solids, were buried. State records show that the monthly averages of wastes totaled 216,993 gallons, 2,549 drums and 278.3 tons of waste materials. These are the monthly averages of some of the toxic wastes TECO accepts: Description Quantity Sulfuric acid 166 gallons Hydrochloric acid 54.16 drums Hevy metals bearing acid 34.16 drums Cyanide-bearing wastes .66 drums Pesticide production waste 3.41 drums Chlorinated hydrocarbons 28.374 gallons Ortho Dichlorobenzene 4.66 drums Water treatment sludge 256 tons Acid sludge containing 53,900 gallons hydrocarbons Asbestos-cement pipe scrap 3,038 gallons THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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