EPA intervenes to clean up mystery toxic dump threatening Texas county’s water


Maybe EPA should take Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s advice, and go door to door asking who did it.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Monday the agency will work to stop a toxic plume of tetrachloroethylene (PCE) that threatens to contaminate well waters in Burnet County.

The source of the plume, and who dumped the stuff, are unknowns.

EPA’s announcement:

EPA Adds Burnet Co., TX, Groundwater Plume to National Priorities List of Superfund Sites

Five hazardous waste sites added, seven proposed nationally

(DALLAS – Sept. 28, 2015)  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the Main Street Groundwater Plume site in Burnet Co., TX, to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites, a list of sites that pose risks to people’s health and the environment. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive community resources by eliminating or reducing public health risks and environmental contamination.

The site lies about one mile south of the city of Burnet between County Road 340 and County Road 340 A. A plume of tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, was found in the groundwater in this area during monitoring of the Bertram Public Water Supply in 2010. The source of the contamination is unknown.

“Texans understand how precious water resources are for families and businesses,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “Addressing contamination helps alleviate the risk to the community and return property to economic use.”

The plume released into the Ellenburger-San Saba Aquifer, and contaminated two public water supply wells and seven private wells. Monitoring indicates levels in drinking water wells are below EPA’s health-based maximum contaminant level (MCL). Two wells that exceeding the MCL are used for irrigation and livestock watering. Exposure to PCE could harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, and may lead to higher risk of some types of cancer.

EPA regularly works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the extent of the contamination before assessing how best to treat it.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program. Superfund’s passage was a giant step forward in cleaning up legacy industrial waste sites to help ensure human health and environmental protection. The Superfund law gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites:
http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/current.htm

Information about how a site is listed on the NPL:
http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm

Superfund sites in local communities:
http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/index.htm

More information about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, can be found at:
http://epa.gov/superfund/policy/cercla.htm

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

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Tetrachloroethylene is a commonly used solvent, often used in dry cleaning of fabrics and degreasing metal parts.  The chemical is also known as perchloroethane, or perc. It was first synthesized in 1821 by Michael Faraday. It is volatile, but highly stable and not flammable.

EPA documents say, “Effects resulting from acute (short term) high-level inhalation exposure of humans to tetrachloroethylene include irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.” It is classed as a Type 2A chemical for carcinogenicity, which means it is a probable human carcinogen, but not a potent one.

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Burnet County, outlined in red, covers parts of five different watersheds. EPA map

Burnet County, outlined in red, covers parts of five different watersheds. EPA map

Burnet County is in Central Texas, in red on this EPA map

Burnet County is in Central Texas, in red on this EPA map

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