- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

LUBBOCK, Texas | Later this month, the first trainloads of PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River will arrive and, in the eyes of critics, will turn a stretch of West Texas into New York’s “pay toilet.”

They argue that burying dirt so toxic that General Electric Co. will spend at least six years and an estimated $750 million to dig it up will only create a new mess for future generations to clean up.

But for 15 new jobs and the little bit of money it will bring local businesses, the folks who live near the site are willing to take the risk, however remote, of tainting the area’s ground water by taking out somebody else’s trash.

“The city is not against it, and the city is not in an uproar,” said Matt White, mayor of nearby Eunice, N.M. “It is a big impact on our city and definitely positive.”

The deal has the blessing of government officials in both states, and New York environmental groups who have lobbied for decades for the removal of the sludge say it will substantially lower the risk of PCBs - a likely carcinogen in high doses in humans - getting into the food chain.

Mr. White said the process is completely safe and that there’s no risk to Eunice’s 3,000 residents in bringing the contaminated dirt into their backyard.

The Dallas-based company that operates the disposal site, Waste Control Specialists, stands to make tens of millions of dollars, according to a company spokesman who declined to give an exact amount.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a family of chemicals commonly used as coolants and lubricants in electrical transformers before they were banned in 1977. GE plants in upstate New York discharged wastewater containing PCBs into the Hudson River over several decades.

Waste Control plans to bury the tainted soil on top of 800 feet of clay and then cover it with plastic lining and uncontaminated soil. It also stores radioactive waste at the site, including 45,000 tons of waste from a former uranium-processing plant.

Ordinarily, the clay would prevent the PCBs from seeping into the groundwater below, but critics say the clay underlying the storage site has cracks.

Glenn Lewis, 61, a former technical writer with the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, said geologists studying the site had recommended that Waste Control not be licensed to dispose of the low-level radioactive waste after discovering problems with the clay, including holes and fissures of various widths. He called the site “irredeemably inadequate” for radioactive waste.

Neil Carman, an official with the Sierra Club in Texas, said the Environmental Protection Agency is letting GE use the “cheapest option” by not requiring it to neutralize the PCBs at a treatment facility it built near the dredging operation.

“There’s no cleanup. It’s just gone from the Hudson River,” Mr. Carman said. He called Waste Control a “cheap pay toilet … the cheapest GE could find,” and said burying the dirt is only leaving a toxic mess for future generations.

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