City denied use of questionable substance to cover landfill

hiltonkellyPort Arthur News
David Ball

PORT ARTHUR— Dealing with chemicals is a way of life for Southeast Texans because of all the plants and refineries. One thing is never acceptable, however, and that is people coming into contact with toxic waste.

A press release from the Texas Campaign for the Environment in Austin believes Port Arthur avoided such an issue last week. TCE and Community In-Power and Development Association, a Port Arthur environmental group, originally filed a motion in December 2007 with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to overturn the temporary authorization for acceptance of Newpark Waste as alternative daily cover at the city’s landfill. The TCEQ commissioners voted unanimously to deny the city permission to cover the landfill in what TCEQ called toxic waste.

TCE said Port Arthur requested in November 2007 to use Newpark material on its landfill. Permission was granted from the TCEQ executive director. The material is produced by oil services firm Newpark Resources and is comprised of coal plant fly ash and oil drilling waste.

“I’m very excited. This is a victory for the whole community. This stuff should had never been used. It’s a mixture and a conglomerate,” Hilton Kelley of CIDA said. “The mayor (Deloris “Bobbie” Prince) didn’t put a lot of thought into it and is ill-informed.

“It could leak into the waterway and we would never know about it. The mayor needs to pay a lot closer attention to the paper work on the environment and the waste they’re allowing. The material is nothing more than chemical waste and needs to disposed of in a controlled manner. It should not be used in Texas.”

Port Arthur City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons spoke on behalf of the city and said the Newpark substance was used in the past several years ago at the landfill.

“We had an option to use it if it was a good option. We would have to work on the terms and conditions, and the pay if was used. It was another option and approved by the (city) council,” Fitzgibbons said.

The standard coverage for landfills is 6 inches of dirt. On the other hand, Fitzgibbons said the dirt coverage costs more than the substance. One option that was looked at was mixing the dirt with the Newpark substance.

“It made sense to the council and they wanted to make sure the TCEQ would determine if it was safe to be used or not. They’re more knowledgeable about it. The more options you have, the better off you are,” he said.

In addition to environmental questions, the city also had to weigh if the Newpark substance would be more damaging on equipment at the landfill.

The TCEQ commissioners voted to uphold new rules passed in 2006 that tightened the standards for what could be used to cover landfills to reduce landfill odors, windblown waste and the presence of scavenging animals. TCE said these new rules clearly state if a waste material was too toxic to be allowed into the landfill as waste, it could not be used to cover the landfill either.

Kelley believes this incident is part of a larger environmental challenge to the region.

“With the expansion of the plants, no one is taking duty on this. No one is finding out how much is being dumped. There is no environmental cabinet in city hall. Jobs are great and needed, but there will be some emissions increases. There is a need for gas and fuel and Southeast Texas pays the price.”