Gallons of Contaminated Water from Ohio Train Derailment Already in Deer Park [UPDATED]

County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed Harris County residents late Thursday night to notify of the water's arrival in Deer Park.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed Harris County residents late Thursday night to notify of the water's arrival in Deer Park. Screenshot
Around 500,000 gallons of water from firefighting efforts at a derailment that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio arrived at Texas Molecular as early as last week – unbeknownst to Harris County officials who were told that the hazardous waste company would receive the water but did not know when.

Despite dangers in this transportation process, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Jerry Mouton of Deer Park – where the hazardous waste disposal company is located – were not alerted about the arrival of the water until yesterday afternoon.

“There is something fundamentally broken with how these incidents are dealt with, at least with how information is communicated,” Hidalgo said, at a press conference held Thursday night.

Hidalgo said that once her office knew about the water arriving, they reached out to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation about the issue.

According to Hidalgo, these agencies and organizations who are involved in the oversight had limited information and that she was unclear of who had the “full picture” of what was happening during the transportation process.

Hidalgo said that what the officials do know is that the water first arrived around Wednesday of last week and that Texas Molecular is receiving around 30 trucks of water per day. She also said they expect to receive 2 million gallons of the water from the site of the derailment.

She did confirm the water is traveling by truck at the last leg of travel but included that it may be first transported by train then transferred to the truck.

To ensure the safety of residents, Hidalgo said that she would remain in close contact with the agencies and organizations involved in the transportation process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when exposed to vinyl chloride, the gas can affect a person's respiratory system and liver. If people breathe in high levels of the gas, they can feel dizzy or sleepy in five minutes from when initial inhalation began. If an individual continues to breathe it in for a prolonged period, they may lose consciousness but can recover if they are exposed to fresh air that is not contaminated by the gas. If an individual’s skin is exposed to the substance, it will grow numb, red and blisters will appear.

If the levels of vinyl chloride are extremely high during inhalation, a person can die from inhalation. The risks involved in long term exposure include increased risk of cancer, affects to the structure of a person’s liver, nerve damage and issues with blood flow in a person’s extremities.

Hidalgo said all initial findings from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicate Texas Molecular has a clear record when it comes to handling these contaminated contents.

Though Hidalgo said she is keeping a close eye on the situation, there are still several factors that are not known – one of which being the choice of location for disposal.

There are only 10 hazardous waste disposal facilities that handle contaminated materials like the firefighting water, however there are two that are closer to the site of the derailment – one in Michigan and the other in-state in Ohio.

Hidalgo said because of the two closer facilities, she is unclear why the water had to be transported all the way to Texas.

“There may be logistical reasons for all of this, there may be economic reasons perhaps Texas molecular outbid the Michigan facility,” Hidalgo said. “It doesn't mean there's something nefarious going on, but we do need to know the answer to this question.”

The other missing information includes the actual contents of the water. Though it is clear there are some levels of Vinyl Chloride – a flammable toxic gas – Hidalgo said it is unclear as to the levels of this substance or the levels of any other substance that may be in the water.
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The derailment occurred on Friday, February 3, and forced East Palestine residents to evacuate the surrounding areas.
Hidalgo said she was told by Texas Molecular that the company would provide a full report on what was found stored in the water and submit a request to the TCEQ to come inspect their facilities, but that neither had been done yet.

“The last thing I want is for our community or one of the many communities between Ohio and Harris County, Texas to be the next place where there’s an accident with materials from this derailment,” Hidalgo said.

Update 11 a.m. Statement from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency:

As of Thursday (Feb. 23), a total of 1,715,433 gallons of contaminated liquid has been removed from the immediate site of the derailment. Of this, 1,133,933 gallons have been hauled off-site, with most going to Texas Molecular.

There are extensive federal safety and accountability rules that regulate the transport of hazardous materials. In Ohio, these are enforced by the state Public Utilities of Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and other federal agencies.
Update 12:05 p.m.

In an interview with the Houston Press, Mayor Jerry Mouton of Deer Park said Texas Molecular is fully equipped to handle the water from the derailment, as they have handled similar hazardous materials daily at their facilities.

“This company has been there for 40 years; this is what they do. They’re highly specialized to handle certain specific content and that’s exactly why this is coming to this facility,” Mouton said. “So for the process and the permitting and regulatory aspect of how all this is handled, I am confident that it will be done safely.”

Mouton also said that Texas Molecular is located outside of city limits, inside of Deer Park’s industrial district.

The mayor said he has not inquired about the timeline of when the transportation will be completed.

“I think the concerns with people to some extent are valid but the truth is this is a tried-and-true process,” Mouton said. “I am continuing to stand by the fact that this is a company that specializes in this and that there’s no danger in any aspect to us in the city.”

The mayor's complete text posted on the Deer Park City website:

We are aware of the material coming into our region from the Ohio train derailment. The City of Deer Park has no concerns about the handling and disposal of this material. While Texas Molecular is outside Deer Park’s city limits and our jurisdiction, they are permitted by the EPA to conduct such things and have done so safely for over 40 years. We have been notified by Texas Molecular that the firefighting water collected was very diluted. I have had discussions with Judge Hidalgo and Commissioner Garcia, and we all are working diligently to get the most factual information presented. We take the utmost care in preserving the integrity of our infrastructure and maintaining standards of safety for our community and constituents.

Texas Molecular has advised there will be no risk to water, groundwater, air emissions, etc. Specific questions should be directed to Texas Molecular, who has released the following media statement:

“Texas Molecular specializes in helping customers and the environment reduce risk by safely sequestering water at our facility which is regulated by US EPA and TCEQ. We have operated at our Deer Park location for over 40 years. The waters are managed in accordance with TCEQ and EPA requirements from reception to sample evaluation of each truck to storage in tanks to filtration to process tanks to sequestration. All trucks coming into our facility are authorized by DOT, EPA, and the states in which they operate.
We are chosen based on our capabilities, experience, and unique ability to handle a project of this size. We lower risk by having no discharges to groundwater, no discharges to surface water, and no thermal processes. Our technology safely removes hazardous constituents from the biosphere. We are part of the solution to reduce risk and protect the environment, whether in our local area or other places that need the capabilities we offer to protect the environment.

The firefighting water on the current project is similar to firefighting waters we have accepted and safely managed in the past, including a very large fire a few years ago in our local area. The community and regulators were glad that we had the ability to manage large quantities of firewater safely in a reasonable amount of time. The amount of the original chemicals is very small. We are not managing any pure products. Case in point, vinyl chloride as a pure product is a gas. We do not accept vinyl chloride gas. As a constituent in the water, it is not a gas, it contains very low levels of soluble vinyl chloride. Since we manage waters and fire waters safely, the major difference between what we do on a regular basis versus the case of East Palestine, the firefighting water was from a train derailment with an abundance of news interest.
We are active members of the Deer Park Community Advisory Council (DPCAC), Deer Park Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). We have briefed the City of Deer Park, DPCAC, and other stakeholders on the current project.”
Update: 1:10 p.m.

Statement from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:

"TM Deer Park is receiving liquid waste from the Ohio train derailment for storage and ultimate
disposal. TM Deer Park is authorized to accept and manage a variety of waste streams,
including vinyl chloride, as part of their RCRA hazardous waste permit and underground
injection control permit."

Additionally, a spokeswoman from the TCEQ said that their regional office has not received a
request for an inspection from Texas Molecular at this time.

Update 5:30 p.m.
Statement from the Department of Transportation:

“The Department of Transportation takes issues like this very seriously. We are aware  of the movement of the wastewater from East Palestine, are in contact with Harris County, and are coordinating with EPA to further investigate the situation.”
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.