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Agency Activities: Waste Management (FY2017-2018)

The following summarizes the agency’s activities regarding disposal of low-level radioactive waste, underground injection control of radioactive waste, the Superfund program, petroleum storage tanks, voluntary cleanups, dry cleaners, industrial and hazardous waste management, and municipal solid-waste management. (Part of Chapter 2—Biennial Report to the 86th Legislature, FY2017-FY2018)

Waste Management

Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste

In 2009, the TCEQ issued a license to Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) authorizing the operation of a facility for disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) in Andrews County, Texas.

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact is made up of the states of Texas and Vermont. LLRW generated in the Texas Compact may be disposed of in the Compact Waste Facility (CWF). The CWF can also accept non-compact wastes provided that the importation is approved by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission. A separate, adjacent facility, the Federal Waste Facility (FWF), authorized by the same license as the CWF, may accept LLRW and mixed waste (waste that contains both a hazardous and a radioactive constituent) from federal facilities. Upon eventual closure of the FWF, the facility will be owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

After the TCEQ authorized commencement of operations at the CWF portion of the site, the facility received its first waste shipment in April 2012. The TCEQ then authorized operations to begin at the FWF portion of the site, and the facility received its first waste shipment in June 2013. Since operations began at both sites, more than 400,000 cubic feet of waste have been safely disposed of, and over $47 million in disposal and processing fees have been collected as revenue for the state through the third quarter of fiscal 2018.

LLRW is produced predominantly by nuclear utilities, academic and medical research institutions, hospitals, industry, and the military. It typically consists of radioactively contaminated trash, such as:

  • paper
  • rags
  • plastic
  • glassware
  • syringes
  • protective clothing (gloves, coveralls)
  • cardboard
  • packaging material
  • organic material
  • used, sealed radioactive sources

Nuclear power plants contribute the largest portion of LLRW in the form of spent ion-exchange resins and filters, contaminated tools and clothing, and irradiated metals and other hardware. LLRW does not include high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel.

By law, the TCEQ is responsible for setting rates for the disposal of LLRW at the compact facility. In November 2013, the TCEQ adopted a final disposal rate by rule and published the notice in the Texas Register. The disposal rate has been reviewed annually and revised as necessary, or at the request of the compact facility operator and the compact generators.

Disposal of Radioactive By-Product Material

Licensed in 2008, the WCS site has been open for by-product disposal since 2009. By-product material that can be disposed of by the WCS facility is defined as tailings or wastes produced by, or resulting from, the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore.

Since 2009, the WCS facility has disposed of one by-product waste stream containing 3,776 canisters of waste generated by the DOE’s Fernald facility in Ohio.

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Underground Injection Control Program

Underground Injection Control (UIC) is a federally authorized program that was established under the authority of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to protect underground sources of drinking water from degradation caused by unsafe injection of fluids underground. The state of Texas gained primacy for the UIC program in 1982 and jurisdiction is shared between the TCEQ and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). There are six classes of injection wells. The TCEQ’s jurisdiction covers Classes I, III, IV, and V injection wells.

  • Class I wells are used for deep injection of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes.
  • Class II wells are used to extract minerals other than oil and gas, and are regulated by the TCEQ or the RRC, depending on the type of well.
  • Class IV wells are only authorized by the TCEQ or the EPA in special circumstances regarding environmental cleanup operations.
  • Class V wells are used for many different activities and are regulated by either the TCEQ or the RRC, depending on the type of well.

Uranium Production

Uranium is produced in Texas through in situ leaching. Uranium is leached directly out of a uranium-bearing formation underground and pumped in solution to the surface for processing. The conventional method used in the past for uranium production created impoundments for disposal of by-product waste. These impoundment sites have all been capped, are no longer accepting waste, and will be transferred to the DOE upon license termination.

Currently, Texas has five uranium mining licenses comprising eight sites and two licensed uranium-processing facilities.

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Superfund Program

Superfund is the federal program that enables state and federal environmental agencies to address properties contaminated by hazardous substances. The EPA has the legal authority and resources to clean up sites where contamination poses the greatest threat to human health and the environment.

Texas either takes the lead or supports the EPA in the cleanup of Texas sites that are on the National Priorities List, which is the EPA’s ranking of national priorities among known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

In addition, Texas has a state Superfund program to address sites that are ineligible for the federal program. This program is the state’s safety net for addressing contaminated sites. The TCEQ uses state funds for cleanup at sites in the Texas Superfund Registry if no responsible parties can or will perform the cleanup. The TCEQ also takes legal steps to recover the cleanup expenses.

After a site is proposed for the state Superfund program, either the responsible party or the TCEQ proceeds with a remedial investigation, during which the agency determines the nature and extent of the contamination. A feasibility study follows to identify possible cleanup remedies. A local public meeting is held to explain the proposed remedy and to accept public comments. The TCEQ then selects an appropriate remedial action.

In fiscal 2017, Texas had 111 active sites in the state and federal Superfund programs. One new site in Winkler County was proposed and listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) during the fiscal year. Remedial actions were completed at three state Superfund sites, in Brazoria, Grayson, and Mitchell counties.

In fiscal 2018, one new site in Bexar County and one new site in Dallas County were listed on the NPL, for a total of 113 active sites. Additionally, one new site in Dallas County was proposed for listing on the NPL. Remedial actions were completed at one Texas Superfund Registry site located in Mitchell County and at one NPL site located in Galveston County.

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Petroleum Storage Tanks

The TCEQ oversees the cleanup of contamination of groundwater and soil due to leaking petroleum-storage tanks. Since the program began in 1987, the agency has received reports of 28,043 leaking PST sites—primarily at gasoline stations.

By the end of fiscal 2018, cleanup had been completed at 26,753 sites, and corrective action was under way at 1,290 sites.

Of the total reported PST releases, about half have affected groundwater.

Leaking PSTs are often discovered when a tank owner or operator upgrades or removes tanks, when an adjacent property owner is affected, or when the tank leak-detection system signals a problem. Some leaks are detected during construction or utility maintenance. Most tank-system leaks are due to corrosion, incorrect installation, or damage during construction or repairs.

To avoid releases, tank owners and operators are required to properly operate and monitor their storage-tank systems, install leak-detection equipment and corrosion protection, and take measures to prevent spills and overfills.

Tank owners and operators are required to clean up releases from leaking PSTs, beginning with a site assessment that may include drilling monitoring wells and taking soil and groundwater samples. The TCEQ oversees the remediation.

Under state law, cleanups of leaking tanks that were discovered and reported after Dec. 23, 1998, are paid by the owners’ environmental liability insurance or other financial-assurance mechanisms, or from their own funds.

The PST State Lead Program cleans up sites at which the responsible party is unknown, unwilling, or financially unable to do the work—and in situations in which an eligible site was transferred to State Lead by July 2011. State and federal funds pay for the corrective actions. Except for the eligible sites placed in the program by the July 2011 deadline, the state allows cost recovery from the current owner or any previous responsible owner.

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Voluntary Cleanups

The Texas Voluntary Cleanup Program gives incentives for pollution cleanup by releasing future property owners from liability once a previously contaminated property is cleaned up to the appropriate risk-based standard.

Since 1995, the program has provided regulatory oversight and guidance for 2,869 applicants and has issued 2,330 certificates of completion.

In the last two years, the program received 110 applications and issued 198 certificates. Recipients of the certificates report that the associated release of liability helps with property sales, including transactions that would not have otherwise occurred due to real or perceived environmental impacts. As a result, many underused or unused properties may be restored to economically beneficial use.

The key benefit of the VCP is the liability release afforded to future property owners once the certificate is issued. The certificate insulates future owners from potential changes in environmental conditions, such as the discovery of previously unknown contamination.

The VCP is funded by an initial $1,000 fee paid by each applicant. Costs beyond the initial fee are invoiced to the applicant monthly by the TCEQ.

Under the Innocent Owner/Operator Program, the TCEQ also implements the law providing liability protection to property owners whose land has been affected by contamination that migrated onto their property from an off-site source. In the last two years, the TCEQ issued 91 certificates.

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Dry Cleaners

Since 2003, the TCEQ has been responsible for collecting fees for a remediation fund designed to help pay for the cleanup of contaminated dry-cleaner sites. The fees come from the annual registration of dry-cleaning facilities and drop stations, property owners, prior property owners, and solvent fees from solvent distributors.

In 2007, the Legislature established registration requirements for current and prior property owners who wish to claim benefits from the remediation fund, and authorized a lien against current and prior property owners who fail to pay registration fees due during corrective action.

In addition, the use of perchloroethylene was prohibited at sites where the agency has completed corrective action.

In fiscal 2017, there were 2,982 dry-cleaner registrations and more than $3.3 million in invoiced fees; in fiscal 2018, there were a total of 2,726 registrations and approximately $3.2 million in invoiced fees.

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Managing Industrial and Hazardous Waste

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) establishes a system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal. The EPA has delegated the primary responsibility of implementing the RCRA in Texas to the TCEQ.

The TCEQ reviews and approves plans, evaluates complex analytical data, and writes new and modified Industrial and Hazardous Waste (I&HW) permits. Texas has 181 permitted industrial and hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

During fiscal 2017 and 2018, the TCEQ issued 26 I&HW permit renewals, performed approximately 1,121 industrial waste-stream audits, and oversaw remediation of a total of 336 sites.

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Managing Municipal Solid Waste

With growing demands on the state’s waste-disposal facilities, the TCEQ evaluates the statewide outlook for landfill capacity and strives to reduce the overall amount of waste generated.

In fiscal 2017 (the most recent data available), there were 196 active municipal solid-waste landfills in the state. Over 35.5 million tons of waste were disposed of, an increase of 5.5 percent from fiscal 2015. In fiscal 2017, the average per capita disposal rate was 6.8 pounds per person per day.

Figure 5. Municipal Solid Waste. Texas had 196 active municipal solid waste landfills in fiscal 2017. Municipal solid waste disposal reached about 35.3 million tons. Pie chart: Municipal Solid Waste, 65%, Sludge, Brush, Soil, and Other Types of Waste, 15%, Construction and Demolition, 20%.

At the end of fiscal 2017, overall municipal solid-waste capacity was over 1.9 billion tons, representing an average of 55 years of remaining disposal capacity. The net capacity increased approximately 61 million tons, or roughly 44 million cubic yards, compared with the capacity in fiscal 2015. Throughout the state, the existing trend is for regional landfills to serve the state’s more-populous areas, while less-populous areas in West Texas are served by small, arid-exempt landfills that accept less than 40 tons day.

To assist regional and local solid-waste planning initiatives, such as addressing adequate landfill capacity, the TCEQ provides solid-waste planning grants to each of the 24 regional councils of governments (COGs). The planning initiatives are based on goals specified in each COG’s regional solid-waste-management plan.

For the 2016–17 grant period, the COGs received about $10.9 million. Pass-through projects included recycling activities, cleanups of illegal dump sites (including illegal tire sites), household hazardous waste collection events, and education and outreach projects.

The Solid Waste Grants Program Funding Report, FY2016–2017, includes data collected by the TCEQ from the 24 COGs, and details the regional solid-waste grant activities for that two-year period. The report will be available on the TCEQ’s website in January 2019.

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