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Agency Activities: Waste Management (FY2019-2020)

The following summarizes the agency’s activities regarding disposal of low-level radioactive waste, underground injection control of radioactive waste, industrial and hazardous waste management, municipal solid-waste management, the Superfund program, petroleum storage tanks, voluntary cleanups, dry cleaners, and waste reduction. (Part of Chapter 2—Biennial Report to the 87th Legislature, FY2019-FY2020)

Waste Management

Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste

In 2009, 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 Disposal Compact is an interstate compact between 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 TCEQ authorized commencement of operations at the CWF portion of the site, the facility received its first waste shipment in April 2012. 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 550,000 cubic feet of waste have been safely disposed of, and over $56 million in disposal and processing fees have been collected as revenue for the state through the third quarter of fiscal 2020.

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, TCEQ is responsible for setting rates for the disposal of LLRW at the compact facility. In November 2013, TCEQ adopted a final disposal rate by rule and published the notice in the Texas Register. The disposal rate has been reviewed 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 TCEQ and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). There are six classes of injection wells. TCEQ's jurisdiction covers Class I, III, IV, and V injection wells.

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

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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. EPA has delegated the primary responsibility of implementing the RCRA in Texas to TCEQ.

TCEQ reviews and approves plans, evaluates complex analytical data, and writes new and modified Industrial and Hazardous Waste (I&HW) permits. Texas has 177 permitted industrial and hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

During fiscal 2019 and 2020, TCEQ issued 21 I&HW permit renewals, performed approximately 1,160 industrial waste-stream audits, and oversaw remediation of a total of 314 sites.

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Managing Municipal Solid Waste

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

In fiscal 2019 (the most recent data available), there were 198 active municipal solid waste landfills in the state. Over 36.8 million tons of waste were disposed of, an increase of 4.2% from fiscal 2017. In fiscal 2019, the average per capita disposal rate was 6.96 pounds per person per day.

Figure 5. Municipal Solid Waste (pie chart). Texas had 198 active municipal solid waste landfills in fiscal 2019. Municipal solid waste disposal reached about 36.8 million tons.Municipal Solid Waste, 64%.Construction and Demolition, 21%.Sludge, Brush, Soil, and Other Types of Waste, 15%.

At the end of fiscal 2019, overall municipal solid waste capacity was over 1.9 billion tons, representing 53 years of statewide remaining disposal capacity. The net capacity increased approximately 6.2 million tons, or about 0.3%, compared with the capacity in fiscal 2017. 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 per day.

To assist regional and local solid waste planning initiatives, such as addressing adequate landfill capacity, 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 2018–19 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 Regional Solid Waste Grants Program Funding Report, Fiscal Year 2018/2019, includes data collected by TCEQ from the 24 COGs, and details the regional solid waste grant activities for that two-year period. The report will be available on TCEQ's website in January 2021.

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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. 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 EPA in the cleanup of Texas sites that are on the National Priorities List (NPL), which is EPA's ranking of national priorities among known 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. TCEQ uses state funds for cleanup at sites in the Texas Superfund Registry if no responsible parties can or will perform the cleanup. 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 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 public meeting is held to explain the proposed remedy and to accept public comments. TCEQ then selects an appropriate remedial action.

In fiscal 2019, Texas had 108 active sites in the state and federal Superfund programs. No new sites were proposed or listed on the NPL or Texas Superfund Registry during the fiscal year. Remedial actions were completed at two state Superfund sites—in Matagorda and Galveston counties.

In fiscal 2020, no new sites were proposed or listed on the NPL or Texas Superfund Registry, for a total of 108 active sites. No remedial actions were completed.

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Petroleum Storage Tanks

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 28,488 leaking PST sites—primarily at gasoline stations.

By the end of fiscal 2020, cleanup had been completed at 27,335 sites, and corrective action was under way at 1,153 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. 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 (VCP) 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 2,962 applicants and has issued 2,490 VCP certificates of completion.

In the last two years, the program received 144 applications and issued 160 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 TCEQ.

Under the Innocent Owner/Operator Program (IOP), 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, TCEQ issued 62 IOP certificates.

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Dry Cleaners

Since 2003, 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 2019, there were 2,578 dry-cleaner registrations and more than $3.1 million in invoiced fees; in fiscal 2020, there was a total of 2,449 registrations and approximately $2.9 million in invoiced fees.

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Waste Reduction

Hazardous Waste

TCEQ provides technical advice and collaborates on the offering of innovative approaches and in-person workshops for improving environmental performance through pollution prevention (P2) planning.

All together, these efforts resulted in reductions of hazardous waste by more than 918 thousand tons and of toxic chemicals by more than 240 thousand tons during fiscal biennium 2019–20.

Renewing Old and Surplus Materials

Texas established the Resource Exchange Network for Eliminating Waste (RENEW) in 1988 to promote the reuse or recycling of industrial waste.

The materials-exchange network has assisted in the trading of millions of pounds of materials, including plastic, wood, and laboratory chemicals. These exchanges divert materials from landfills and help participants reduce waste-disposal costs and receive money for their surplus materials. Additionally, exchanges help protect the environment by conserving natural resources and reducing waste.

RENEW is a free, easy-to-use service. Listings are grouped under "Materials Available" for anyone offering raw materials to other facilities, and "Materials Wanted" for anyone looking to find raw materials.

Through the RENEW website, , these participants can list and promote information on opportunities for exchanging at national and regional levels.

In fiscal 2019 and 2020, 102 users signed up to use RENEW, and 204 new listings were posted.

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