Deer Park facility receiving 2 million gallons of Ohio derailment's toxic runoff, Judge Hidalgo says

Friday, February 24, 2023
500K gallons of derailment runoff already here, Harris Co. Judge says
Judge Lina Hidalgo, frustrated with the lack of communication over Ohio derailment wastewater coming to the county, said the Deer Park facility getting the runoff will get 2 million gallons in total.

DEER PARK, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County leaders entered Thursday with the understanding that firefighting water runoff from the Ohio train derailment 1,300 miles away is on its way to a Deer Park toxic disposal facility.

But, according to Judge Lina Hidalgo, about half a million gallons of that liquid waste arrived at Texas Molecular in the middle of last week, and the facility will receive about 2 million gallons total.

The county judge delivered an update in a news conference organized at the last minute Thursday night after she said she spoke with Texas Molecular, as well as other state and federal agencies.

At the heart of her message was frustration over her and other leaders receiving little communication about the incoming waste, with safety being the main concern. Hidalgo also said it didn't seem that agencies like the EPA have the full picture of what's going on, calling it a "problem."

Since Tuesday, when ABC13 broke news about the incoming waste, Texas Molecular has tried to assure county leaders that it will be able to handle a project of this size, pointing at previous events like taking in runoff from the ITC facility fire in 2019.

SEE PREVIOUS REPORT: Deer Park waste disposal company will house toxic wastewater from Ohio train derailment, TCEQ says

Still, Hidalgo said the wastewater is being transported by rail and then by truck in the last leg, posing some risk of a calamity similar to East Palestine, Ohio, taking place.

Three areas of concern

Hidalgo mentioned a trio of things that she said should have attention.

One, what is being injected in the Texas Molecular wells, and what reactions will it create? She added that the company assured her of a full list of what they store and that a request to TCEQ was submitted to check on the facility's permits.

None of those have been fulfilled yet, she said.

She was also concerned with what precautions are being taken during transport and questioned why the water was heading this way, acknowledging that Deer Park has one of the 10 disposal sites in the country capable of receiving hazardous commercial waste.

However, she mentioned that two other sites close to the derailment - one in Ohio and the other in Michigan - weren't tapped, for whatever reason.

"Why are these materials not being taken somewhere closer?" Hidalgo asked. "Is there something these jurisdictions know that we don't know? To be clear there may be logistical reasons, economic reasons. Perhaps Texas Molecular outbid the Michigan facility? It doesn't mean there's something nefarious going on, but we need to know the answer."

Eyewitness News learned from the Environmental Protection Agency that some of the water will go to a facility in Ohio, but the vast majority will be in Deer Park.

In a statement sent Thursday afternoon, the EPA said, "A total of 1,715,433 gallons of contaminated liquid has also been removed from the immediate site of the derailment. Of this, 1,133,933 gallons have been hauled off-site, with most going to Texas Molecular, a hazardous waste disposal facility in Texas. A smaller amount of waste has been directed to Vickery Environmental in Vickery, Ohio."

Hidalgo says she will stay in contact with multiple agencies and Texas Molecular as shipments continue.

Watch Judge Hidalgo's full remarks from Thursday night

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo used a quickly-organized news conference to address where Texas Molecular in Deer Park stands with receiving toxic runoff water from the Ohio derailment site.

What was burning in East Palestine?

Vinyl chloride is what the train in Ohio was carrying when it derailed.

Residents of the small town voiced their health and safety concerns weeks after the Feb. 3 disaster as the clean-up process began.

According to Dr. Michael Wong, a chemical engineering professor at Rice, humans should not come in contact with it because it can cause cancer.

Wong, though, believed there shouldn't be too much to worry.

"Because we're the energy capital of the world, we know how to handle all that stuff," Wong said. "So we know how to handle vinyl chloride, plastics, polymers, petroleum. So it's easy, because it's built into all of the things we do down here. I wish it didn't come down here, but we know how to handle it."

What has Texas Molecular said?

Texas Molecular provided a statement on Wednesday with details, saying it specializes in the disposal of chemical waste and describes the liquid that's being trucked to Deer Park as "firefighting water" - a mix of water and chemicals that was used to put out the massive fire that erupted after the crash.

RELATED: Ohio toxic train derailment: EPA vows to support East Palestine as rail company handles cleanup

The company says the vinyl chloride that burned during the accident is a component in the runoff wastewater but is present in a small amount.

An expert ABC13 spoke to says TM specializes in a method called deep well injection, in which a hole is drilled thousands of feet below the earth's surface, where the waste will be injected.

That expert says if handled properly, there should be no health threat to the Deer Park community.

A Deer Park resident questions why the toxic waste has to travel so far to be disposed of. "It's foolish to put it on the roadway. We have accidents on a regular basis," she said. "Do they want to have another contamination zone?"

TM says it is regulated by both the EPA and TCEQ.

SEE ALSO: East Palestine residents 'right to be skeptical,' but officials say water, air are safe: OH senator