1:1 CD 7 CD Over the years the agency has not only allowed the firm to dump hazardous materials brought in from out of state, but has made questionable allowances in the way dangerous materials have been treated. For example, the state permitted the disposal of polychloriwhich has been found to cause cancer, nerve damage and liver and skin ailments in industrial workers exposed to the substance. On June 9, 1977, TECO wrote to the department of water resources requesting permission to handle PCBs from Huntsville Utilities, of Huntsville, Ala. “As you are probably aware, Alabama does not currently have a disposal site capable of safely handling PCB material,” Reeves wrote the department. Permission was granted by then-executive director of the department Hugh Yantis, depsite regulations requiring that all PCBs be incinerated after July 1, 1977. Although Yantis is now gone, the water resources department has kept up his tradition. of allowing TECO to use Robstown as a dumping ground for interstate waste. Last October the agency allowed Plastifax, Inc. of Gulfport, Miss. to dispose of its toxic industrial wastes here because the firm was unable to find a suitable waste disposal site between Texas and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One reason for the popularity of this site is hinted at in a letter from Environmental Pollution Control Inc., a Mississippi-based waste-hauling firm handling the toxins from Plastifax: “Chemical Waste Management’s site in Alabama was . . . considered,” the Miss. firm explained, “but economics dictated that Texas Ecologists was more favorable.” The government’s permit under which the firm has been operating has never been fully observed. For example, the permit calls for “incineration of oils, solvents, hydrocarbons, greases and other combustible liquids.” The TECO incinerator, however, never operated properly and it failed to be approved by the air control board. A 1974 letter from TECO’s former general manager, Dowell Buckner, addressed that misfortune. “As you know, our incinerator has never worked,” he wrote the water resources department. “Because of this, TECO was forced to pursue an alternate method of processing our waste oil . . . . Oil reclamation is now our system.” The letter goes on to state that the reclamation process leaves “a substantial amount of residue” and that “by arrangement with the water quality board and under our permit we are burying the residue . . . .” At the same time, records in the water resources department provide little detail as to how such arrangements were made. Department counsel Jim McManus admits there are gaps in the record, adding, “I’ve noticed that same problem myself.” The attorney for residents in Robstown has called that kind of improvisation totally improper because state laws call for a public hearing to amend a permit. A former top official at TECO agrees. The ex-employee, who asked not to be named, says, “Some of the stuff that should have been taken care of in other ways was allowed to be . buried . . . . From 1972 to 1976, when I was there, the only process they had there was burial.” The company’s burial pits are dug about the size of a football field, and then lined with clay on the bottom and sides. The pits the region’s heavy seasonal rainfall is drained and pumped to holding ponds. Once the clay pits are completely filled with waste, the clay is supposed to act as a sealer to hold out water. But does the system work? Fourteen million gallons of contaminated groundwater have been reported on the site. TECO has publicly admitted that many of its 20 pits \(14 already closed, three being closed and Fred Aldridge, poultry farmer cials contend that natural clay soils in the region protect against seepage down to the groundwater. However, a former TECO employee who worked at the site for several years disagrees: “At the time I left they had 13 pits and some went as deep as 18 feet, where they hit sand.” A provision in the TECO permit requires the state to approve detailed engineering plans for the site “prior to the disposal of any wastes.” Yet officials with the department of water resources admit they have never actually inspected the construction of most of the waste pits. Paul Kutchinski, district supervisor of the department of water resources’ Corpus Christi office, admits that 14 landfills at TECO were not inspected to find if they were dug and lined properly. “We did not check each one as it was constructed,” he says. Asked why the agency failed to visit the site and fulfill its legal mandate, Kutchinski paused. “We didn’t have the manpower . . . . We probably should have required certification by an independent engineer.” The former TECO site official indicated that permit or no, state inspections didn’t amount to much anyway. “They just walked in and didn’t take any samples,” he said of state inspectors. Another former employee who had been a general workman with the company and asked not to be named said state investigators always announced their arrival beforehand, giving operators of the site time to prepare for the visit. “Sometimes we’d shut down two days ahead of time, depending on the weather conditions and what the plant was like,” he said. “They’d even cancel loads so they wouldn’t have stuff on hand and everything would look peachy.” Kutchinski said when such tests were made. data showed THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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