Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for the Greater Fifth Ward community meeting on Tuesday that we co-hosted with Impact. We really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Skeo, consultants for the U.S. EPA, to learn more about the history of the creosote contamination at the Union Pacific facility as well as the proposed cleanup plan.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend the meeting, you can find a recording on our YouTube channel. Or keep reading for a summary of what we discussed!
Skeo Introduction (0:54)
Skeo, an environmental consulting group contracted by the EPA, joined us to present an informational overview of the creosote contamination in the Greater Fifth Ward including the site’s history, some of the cleanup efforts that have occurred to date, and the steps planned for the near future.
Union Pacific Creosote Plume Site History (11:56)
The Southern Pacific Railroad Company, which owned this site prior to Union Pacific, operated a creosote wood treatment facility at this location for over 70 years (1911-1984).
Wood was placed into a large cylinder tank, and the tank would be flooded with creosote and pressurized to catalyze the absorption of creosote into the wood. Then, once the wood was fully saturated, the creosote would be moved back to its storage tanks and used again to treat more wood in the future. This process resulted in spilling creosote onto the ground on a regular basis over the course of over 70 years.
When creosote spills on the ground, the tar-like substance referred to as dense non-aqueous liquid (DNAPL) seeps downward through the soil (vadose zone) and into the groundwater. Chemicals from the creosote DNAPL then dissolve into the groundwater and are carried away from the source with the movement of the groundwater, forming a large plume of contamination. (See figure to the right.)
Location of Creosote Contamination (22:16)
Creosote was handled in specific locations across the site. Areas where creosote was handled and left to seep into the ground, are circled in red in the image below.
SWMU1 is an impoundment (or pit) built to hold creosote-contaminated waste. SWMU4 and SWMU5 are areas where creosote was actively used to treat wood. SWMU2 is a drainage ditch where creosote-contaminated waste would flow to lower-lying areas. AOC6 is a former creosote waste impoundment that periodically flooded. Englewood Yard is the site of a former creosote waste impoundment, and creosote has recently been discovered there seeping through the pavement in the parking lot. Creosote has also been found in the soil near the Liberty Road right-of-way.
Union Pacific has drilled several wells to monitor the geographic extent of the creosote plume, and they also have plans to install several recovery wells used to remove creosote from underground if the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit for the proposed cleanup plan is approved. The image below shows the known geographic boundary of the creosote plume along with the locations of the monitoring wells.
Remedial Action Items(40:45)
Union Pacific has taken some cleanup measures by removing some of the highly contaminated soil and covering an area with residual contamination. They have multiple pumps located in Englewood Yard to remove creosote from under the parking lot.
However, there has been little public notice when cleanup activity takes place. Community members see movement occurring in areas known to be contaminated, but they are left in the dark about what is happening and whether this activity presents a danger to local residents’ health and safety. This is a reminder of how important it is that community members come together to organize their concerns and complaints to present them to Union Pacific at the upcoming public hearing.
Details on the Permit for Union Pacific’s Proposed Cleanup Plan (59:00)
The cleanup plan proposed by Union Pacific has two major components. First, they plan to build a slurry wall, or a concrete wall deep in the ground, around the contaminated area. This would be an attempt to contain the contamination that can’t be removed to prevent it from seeping further into the environment. Then, they will continue to use recovery wells and pumps to remove creosote from other areas that are outside of the slurry wall and therefore not effectively contained.
Once the wall is built and the remaining creosote is pumped out, monitoring will continue to assess the efficacy of the remedy.
There will be a public hearing to discuss concerns related to this permit in the first months of 2022. A date is not yet set for the hearing, but we will be in touch with those details as soon as we know.
Need for Additional Sampling at and around the Union Pacific Site (1:04:58)
Texas Department of State Health Services, along with many community members, have suggested that Union Pacific has not yet conducted enough sampling of the soil and air to know the full extent of the contamination. They are urging Union Pacific to conduct sampling to discover whether contaminants are making their way into the air inside local residents’ homes before moving forward with a cleanup plan. We expect to hear some discussion around this at the upcoming public hearing.