First shipment of toxic sludge from Hudson River being unloaded in West Texas

July 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Crews are still unloading the first 81-car train load of toxic sludge sucked out of New York’s Hudson River into specially dug storage pits at a West Texas waste disposal site.

The load arrived at the Waste Control Specialists site in Andrews County this month, company spokesman Chuck McDonald said.

“On this first load, we are going very slowly to make sure we know what we are doing,” McDonald said. “We are taking our time. Everything has gone smoothly.”

This is the first of hundreds of loads of contaminated waste expected to be sent to West Texas from a Hudson environmental cleanup that could cost $750 million.

General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls into the Hudson for 30 years until the chemicals were banned in 1977. Now GE is working to clean up the river. Some research shows that high doses of PCBs can cause cancer in animals and create health problems in humans such as low birth weight and immune system disorders.

Workers, though a deal approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, are pulling sludge from the bottom of the Hudson, squeezing out water, sticks and rocks and shipping cakelike mud to the WCS site, owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons.

Once the train arrives in Andrews County, WCS pulls the cars into a covered facility where sludge wrapped in a protective liner is transferred to large truck haulers and taken to the pits, McDonald said.

“Each train car has, for lack of better words, something like a big burrito inside it,” he said. “Those are unloaded.”

When the train is empty, WCS will take it back to the tracks.

Environmentalists and others worry that the shipments, which could continue for as many as six years, may spill and create environmental problems along the way or at the site.

“There are continuing concerns,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam. “Those loads are going to keep going and should be monitored.”

The EPA says the process is safe. “This is not uncommon,” spokeswoman Kristen Skopeck said.

Workers involved in the dredging took a break for the July 4 weekend and resumed last week. As of June 27, they had pulled out more than 36,000 cubic yards of contaminated sludge, according to GE’s Hudson Web site.

“This first year, or first phase, of the dredging project is a full-scale test to determine whether the best available dredging technology can achieve the engineering performance standards established by EPA in the natural conditions that we encounter in the Upper Hudson River,” the Web site says.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Region, Working Waterfront. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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