After nearly four years of public outcry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally agreed clean up abandoned industrial waste left behind by CES Environmental Services in southeast Houston.
For years neighbors had complained about CES' Griggs Road facility, where the company cleaned tanker trucks for refineries and chemical plants along the Houston Ship Channel, recycling oil and packaging waste for disposal. CES filed for bankruptcy in 2010, shortly after federal regulators fined the company $1.5 million for a litany of safety violations onsite.
CES closed its doors for good later that year. But when the company closed up shop, it conveniently forgot to clean up its mess.
Containers filled with cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and methyl ethyl ketone still litter the property, and when it rains the chemicals pool in the neighborhoods below the former CES site. Residents filed hundreds of complaints against the company during the 10 years it was in business -- complaints ranging from sickening odors to leaking residue. Some residents told the Chron that recent heavy rains washed noxious, rust-colored run-off into their neighborhood.
The EPA announced this week that it now plans to spend at least $500,000 to scrub the property of any lingering chemicals.
CES had primary responsibility for the cleanup, according to EPA spokesman Joe Hubbard, but the bankruptcy proceedings and the company's lack of funds stalled any cleanup efforts.The property has not been managed or even secured to prevent the chemicals from seeping into the nearby neighborhood since CES filed for bankruptcy four years ago. Vandals have caused at least two spills at the site since March, Hubbard said.
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"There is a real need to get the site cleaned up," Hubbard said. "It's always been on our radar but there has been more concern since the vandalism."
The EPA must now determine what's actually in the containers CES left onsite, which will then have to be sent away for proper disposal. During that process, the EPA will clean up any spills it finds on the property, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will assist with some of the cleanup and disposal, the EPA said.
OSHA fined CES environmental some $1.4 million for safety violations in January 2009, including violations that led to an onsite explosion that killed an employee.
Last year, CES' former CEO, Matthew Bowman, pleaded guilty to violating OSHA safety rules, which led to the death of another employee, a truck driver at the company's Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services (PACES) facility. Bowman "admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas resulting in the death of truck driver Joey Sutter on Dec. 18, 2008," according to court documents.