Energy & Environment

EPA Cleaning Up Smelly Industrial Site In Heart Of Neighborhood

USEPA managing effort to rid Houston neighborhood of smells, chemical runoff

contamination
The EPA has been concerned that rainwater would wash contamination off-site.

 

Walk down Griggs Road in South-Central Houston and you might smell the former CES Environmental Services site before you get to it.

several dozen storage tanks
Enlarge
The site holds several dozen storage tanks and tanker trucks.

“Oh, I can’t stand it, the smell. It gives me headaches and stuff,” said Deseree Bellazer.

She lives two blocks from the source.

“My kids go to the school that’s right next to it,” Bellazer said, referring to the Beatrice Mayes Institute, an elementary charter school.

Just a mile south is the University of Houston campus and two miles away is the Texas Medical Center. The site itself is about the size of three football fields. It holds several warehouses and several dozen storage tanks and tanker trucks.

It was owned by a company called CES Environmental Services which recycled chemicals and sold a product to paper mills.

Over the years, besides the smell, neighbors reportedly endured an explosion that sent shrapnel into their yards. And when the rains came earlier this spring and summer, the EPA says chemically-contaminated storm water ran into neighborhood ditches.

Then there was the day a worker died when workplace safety investigators said a flash fire knocked him from atop a tanker truck.

Gary Moore
Gary Moore is the on-scene coordinator of the EPA project to clean-up the CES site

Enter a guy named Gary Moore.

Four years ago, CES declared bankruptcy. The State of Texas knew all about the calamities, filing lawsuits and earlier this year settling with CES and a related operation in Port Arthur for $3.2 million.

But the site itself seemed to only get worse with un-told quantities of chemicals and oil waste just sitting in the Texas sun and exposed to Gulf Coast storms.

“I can take you for a tour in my truck,” Moore told a reporter.

Moore is on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He arrived earlier this summer to try, once and for all, to clean the place up.

What’s the most worrisome thing to him on the site?

“Those two boxes,” Moore said, referring to two boxes that are actually like the big trash dumpsters you’d need a semi to pull. Inside them is what’s been causing the big stink that neighbors complained about.

clearing out trash
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The EPA hopes to finish clean-up by early next year

“They’ve got a phenolic compound in them,” said Moore. Phenols are a type of petrochemical.

Is that dangerous?

“Yeah, it is to a degree,” Moore said. “If you sit next to it a little longer, you’ll start getting a little nauseated. So we won’t do that.”

The EPA’s crews will wear oxygen masks when they tackle the tanks, work that might be completed this week. That still leaves months of work to remove all the other tanks on the site. What’s more, the EPA is considering whether the clean-up should include soil in the adjacent neighborhoods.

The agency hopes to have much of the work done by February.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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