PCB-tainted sludge bound for West Texas

By Betsy Blaney
Associated Press / June 22, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

LUBBOCK, Texas - Later this month, the first trainloads of PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River will arrive and, in the eyes of critics, will turn a stretch of West Texas into New York’s “pay toilet.’’

They argue that burying dirt so toxic that General Electric Co. will spend at least six years and an estimated $750 million to dig it up will only create a new mess for future generations to clean.

But for 15 new jobs and the little bit of money it’ll bring local businesses, the folks who live near the site are willing to take the risk of tainting the area’s ground water by taking out somebody else’s trash.

“The city is not against it and the city is not in an uproar,’’ said Matt White, mayor of nearby Eunice, N.M. “It is a big impact on our city and definitely positive.’’

The deal has the blessing of officials in both states, and New York environmental groups say it will substantially lower the risk of PCBs - a likely carcinogen in high doses in humans - getting into the food chain.

White said the process is completely safe and there’s no risk to Eunice’s 3,000 residents.

The company that operates the disposal site, Waste Control Specialists, stands to make tens of millions of dollars, according to a company spokesman.

PCBs are a family of chemicals used as coolants and lubricants in electrical transformers before they were banned in 1977. GE plants discharged waste water containing PCBs into the Hudson River over several decades.

Waste Control plans to bury the tainted soil on top of 800 feet of clay and to cover it with plastic lining and uncontaminated soil.

Ordinarily, the clay would prevent the PCBs from seeping into the ground water below. But critics say the clay underlying the storage site has cracks.

Glenn Lewis, 61, a former technical writer with the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, said geologists studying the site had recommended Waste Control not be licensed to dispose of the low-level radioactive waste after discovering problems with the clay, including holes and fissures of various widths.