EPA Challenges State Clean-Up of Frisco Smelter Waste

by Downwinders on February 5, 2013

boxing gloves picDespite denying that it was submitting comments on the state's plan for cleaning up the recently closed Exide lead smelter, the Environmental Protection Agency turned in a sometimes scathing assessment of Austin's proposal to allow the company to treat prohibited hazardous waste that still lies buried in its landfills in Frisco.

"The landfill is not permitted or constructed as a hazardous waste unit. Please clarify the regulatory/statutory provisions TCEQ is following that would allow for treatment of hazardous waste in the landfill," wrote EPA Associate Director Susan Spalding in a five-page letter sent to the Texas Com mission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on January 25th.

News of the Agency's comments comes on the eve of a public meeting scheduled by Exide for Wednesday night at the historic Frisco Depot to explain its clean-up operation.

Besides criticizing the on-site treatment of the hazardous waste, EPA also had a harsh review of the way Exide and TCEQ had identified areas of the current landfill with concentrated lead wastes that needed treatment, suggesting four times as much sampling as the company had proposed, and TCEQ had approved.

EPA also noted that a closed landfill in Frisco was already leaking hazardous levels of lead and selenium and suggested that the treatment method Exide is using in its current landfill was not going to be effective.

But in what may be a crushing blow to the company's plans to keep the wastes it generated for almost five decades buried in Frisco permanently, EPA stated that if the current landfill had been used for disposal after 2011 sampling to determine clean-up, which it almost certainly has,"This may require removal of all material" in the landfill.

Many of the problems cited by the Agency are the same ones citizens have been complaining about since Exide announced its unusual scheme to try to treat its illegal hazardous waste in place in its Frisco landfill, instead of digging it up and re-burying it in an official, licensed hazardous waste disposal site.

Exide does not have a permit to handle or dispose of hazardous waste. It's landfill is classified as a "non-hazardous waste" disposal site. The hazardous waste inside of it was discovered by inspectors several years ago.

Citizen groups have said Exide must apply for a full Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit in order to deal with its prohibited wastes. EPA's letter seems to suggest that the Agency agrees.

Besides commenting on the landfill plans, EPA's letter also seeks changes in the dust controls guiding the smelter clean-up, and the public release of information about the clean-up.

Copies of the EPA letter can be downloaded from the Frisco Unleaded website here.

"We're very appreciative that EPA changed its mind and decided to comment on the ridiculous plans by Exide and TCEQ to use the same treatment method on this hazardous waste that failed to work the first time," said Colette McCadden, Chair of Frisco Unleaded, the citizens group who successfully campaigned to close the old smelter last year.

"We hope the EPA continues to provide needed oversight to what Exide and the state are doing – or not doing."

Other groups were more cautious.

"It's a pleasant surprise to see EPA comment so bluntly about the more absurd parts of the proposed Exide clean-up," said Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk. "My hope is that this is only the beginning of a new level of review for Exide by the Agency in light of the USA Today's "Ghost Factory" series chronicling what happens when it's not paying such attention. Only time will tell."

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