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Agency Activities: Waste Management (FY2015-2016)

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 85th Legislature, FY2015-FY2016)

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 LLRW generated in the Texas LLRW Disposal Compact between 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 site, the facility received its first waste shipment 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 in June 2013. Since operations began at both sites, more than 300,000 cubic feet of waste had been safely disposed of, and nearly $37 million in disposal and processing fees had been collected as revenue for the state through fiscal 2016.

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
  • residues from water treatment

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 hard ware. 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 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.

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 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 gener ated by the Department of Energy’s Fernald facility in Ohio.

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Underground Injection Control of Mining Wastes

The TCEQ regulates disposal of by-product 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 (UIC) Program.

Uranium mining sites may have a permitted Class I UIC well for disposal of concentrated waste produced from in situ mining and uranium recovery, as well as contaminated groundwater recovered during restoration of a site.

At the end of fiscal 2016, Texas had five uranium mining licenses comprising eight sites and two licensed uranium-processing facilities.

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 for uranium production, used in the past, created impoundments for disposal of by-product waste.

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 2015, Texas had a 112 active sites in the state and federal Superfund programs. Remedial action was completed at two state Superfund sites, one in Bexar County, and the other in Harris County. One state Superfund site in El Paso County was deleted from the Texas Superfund Registry.

In fiscal 2016, one new site in Bexar County was proposed for the National Priorities List, for a total of 110 active sites. Remedial actions were completed at one Texas Superfund Registry site located in Brazoria County which was subsequently deleted from the Texas Superfund Registry. Two additional state Superfund sites became inactive upon their deletion deed notices being filed, one in Nacogdoches County and one in El Paso 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 27,645 leaking PST sites—primarily at gasoline stations.

By the end of fiscal 2016, cleanup had been completed at 26,090 sites, and corrective action was under way at 1,555 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.

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 2,755 applicants and has issued 2,132 certificates of completion.

In the last two years, the program received 147 applications and issued 190 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 103 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.

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 2015, there were 3,075 dry-cleaner registrations and more than $3.3 million in invoiced fees; in fiscal 2016, a total of 2,963 registrations and approximately $3.27 million in invoiced fees.

Managing Industrial and Hazardous Waste

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 permits. Texas has 179 permitted I&HW treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

During fiscal 2015 and 2016, the TCEQ issued 30 I&HW permit renewals, performed approximately 1,150 industrial waste stream audits, and oversaw remediation of a total of 310 sites.

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.

Municipal Solid Waste Pie Chart. Texas had 199 active municipal solid waste landfills in fiscal 2015 (the most recent data available). Municipal solid waste disposal reached about 33.4 million tons. Sludge, Brush, Soil, and Other Types of Waste 18%, Construction and Demolition 19% and Municipal Solid Waste 63%.

In fiscal 2015 (the most recent data available), there were 199 active municipal solid waste landfills in the state. Over 33.4 million tons of waste were disposed of, an increase of 9.4 percent from fiscal 2013. In fiscal 2015, the average per capita disposal rate was 6.7 pounds per person per day.

At the end of fiscal 2015, overall municipal solid-waste capacity was about 1.9 billion tons, representing an average of 56 years of disposal capacity. This is a net decrease of approximately 15 million tons, or roughly 3.7 million cubic yards, compared with the capacity in fiscal 2013. 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, the TCEQ provides solid waste planning grants to each of the 24 regional councils of governments. The planning initiatives are based on goals specified in each COG’s regional solid-waste-management plan.

For the 2014–15 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, FY2014–2015 , 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 2017.

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