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Agency Activities: Waste Management (FY2013-2014)

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 84th Legislature, FY2013-FY2014)

Waste Management

Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste

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

The low-level radioactive waste generated in the Texas LLRW Disposal Compact, comprising the states of Texas and Vermont, may be disposed of in the Compact Waste Disposal Facility, in addition to accepted non-compact wastes. A separate, adjacent facility, which was authorized by the same license, may accept LLRW and mixed waste (waste that contains both a hazardous and a radioactive constituent) from federal facilities. Upon eventual closure of this site, the facility will be owned by the U.S. Department of Energy.

After the TCEQ authorized commencement of operations at the Compact Waste Disposal Facility portion of the disposal site, the facility received its first waste shipment for disposal in April 2012. The TCEQ then authorized operations to begin at the Federal Waste Disposal Facility portion of the site, and the facility received its first waste shipment for disposal in June 2013. Since operations began at both sites, more than 104,000 cubic feet of waste had been safely disposed of, and $16.4 million in disposal and processing fees had been collected as revenue for the state through fiscal 2014.

Texas’ LLRW is produced predominantly by nuclear utilities, academic and medical research institutions, hospitals, industry, and the military. LLRW typically consists of radioactively contaminated trash, such as paper, rags, plastic, glassware, syringes, protective clothing (gloves, coveralls), cardboard, packaging material, organic material, spent pharmaceuticals, used (decayed) sealed radioactive sources, and water-treatment residues. Nuclear power plants contribute the largest portion of LLRW in the form of contaminated ion-exchange resins and filters, tools, clothing, and irradiated metals and other hardware. LLRW does not include waste from nuclear-weapons manufacturing or from U.S. Navy nuclear propulsion systems.

By law, the TCEQ is responsible for setting rates for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste at the compact facility. In November 2013, the TCEQ adopted a final disposal rate by rule and published the notice in the Texas Register.

Disposal of Radioactive By-Product Material

Licensed in 2008, the Waste Control Specialists site has been open for by-product disposal since 2009. By-product material that can be disposed of by WCS is defined as tailings or wastes produced by, or resulting from, the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from ore.
Since 2009, WCS has disposed of one by-product waste stream containing 3,776 canisters of waste generated by the Department of Energy’s Fernald facility in Ohio.

Underground Injection Control of Mining Wastes

The TCEQ regulates disposal of by-product wastewater material generated at in situ uranium mining and processing sites. This occurs through permitting and enforcement of Class I injection wells under the agency’s federally authorized Underground Injection Control Program.

Each uranium mining site has one or more permitted Class I UIC wells for disposal of excess water produced from in situ mining and uranium recovery, as well as groundwater produced in restoration of mined aquifers.

Texas has seven uranium mining projects and two uranium processing facilities with on-site permitted Class I UIC wells. All are in South Texas.

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Uranium Production

Most uranium is produced in Texas through the in situ leach process. Uranium is leached directly out of a uranium-bearing formation underground and pumped in solution to the surface for processing. The conventional method for uranium production, used in the past, created leftover by-product waste disposal impoundments.

In the last two years, the TCEQ has successfully confirmed the cleanup and closure of five individual uranium production areas and released them for unrestricted use, with the concurrence of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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 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 dealing with contaminated sites. The TCEQ uses state funds for cleanup operations at sites on 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 extent and nature 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.

Projects entering the Superfund program are prioritized by risk. Locating the responsible parties and resolving legal matters, such as access to the site, consumes time and resources. It can take several years for sites to be fully investigated and cleaned up, though the TCEQ will expedite its response when necessary.

In fiscal 2013, Texas had a total of 112 sites in the state and federal Superfund programs. Remedial action was completed at one National Priorities List site, which was located in Bowie County.

In fiscal 2014, one new site in Brazoria County was proposed for the Texas Superfund Registry, for a total of 113 sites. Remedial actions were completed at three Texas Superfund Registry sites, located in Brazoria, Nueces, and Tom Green counties.

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 26,932 leaking PST sites—primarily at gasoline stations.

By the end of fiscal 2014, cleanup had been completed at 25,332 sites, and corrective action was under way at 1,600 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 2,506 applicants and has issued 1,942 certificates of completion for residential, commercial, and industrial properties.

In the last two years, the program received 157 applications and issued 169 certificates. Recipients of the certificates report that the release of liability helps with property sales, including land transactions that would not have otherwise occurred due to concerns about environmental liability. As a result, many underused or unused properties may be restored to economically beneficial or community use.

Recent sites successfully addressed under the Texas VCP range from city-owned properties being developed into beneficial community use, such as the downtown Austin public library now under construction, to mixed-use residential and commercial developments, such as the 136-acre redevelopment of a former manufacturing facility in Houston.

The key benefit 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 95 certificates.

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.

The Legislature in 2007 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 2013, there was a total of 3,171 dry cleaner registrations and more than $3.3 million in invoiced fees; in fiscal 2014, a total of 3,144 registrations and almost $3.26 million in invoiced fees.

Industrial and Hazardous Waste Management

The Resource Conservation Recovery Act 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 192 permitted industrial and hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

During fiscal 2013 and 2014, the TCEQ issued 35 I&HW permit renewals and performed approximately 1,100 industrial waste stream audits.

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Municipal Solid-Waste Management

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.

Municipal Solid Waste pie chart

In fiscal 2013 (the most recent data available), the total disposal in the state’s 197 active municipal solid-waste landfills was about 30.6 million tons, representing a reduction of 6.1 percent from fiscal 2011. Per capita, the rate of landfill disposal was about 6.3 pounds per day in fiscal 2013.

By the end of fiscal 2013, overall municipal solid-waste capacity stood at about 1.9 billion tons, representing about 62 years of disposal capacity. That was a net increase of about 50 million tons, or roughly 150 million cubic yards, compared with fiscal 2011 capacity. More populous areas have seen a trend toward regional landfills serving larger areas, while less populous areas in West Texas continue to be served by small arid exempt landfills (accepting less than 40 tons per day), which are operated by municipalities.

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 2012–13 grant period, the COGs received about $10.9 million. Pass-through projects included collection stations in underserved areas, illegal-dumpsite cleanups, and education and outreach projects.

The Regional Councils of Governments and the Municipal Solid Waste Grant Program, FY 2012–2013: Report to the Texas Legislature details the regional solid waste grant activities from that two-year period (www.txregionalcouncil.org/documents/impacts&results.pdf pdf icon). The report, published by the Texas Association of Regional Councils, includes data collected by the TCEQ from the 24 COGs.

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