Nov. 14, 2003: Superfund's Brio cleanup completed after 14 years
FROM THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARCHIVES
By RUTH RENDON
Fourteen years after being labeled a hazardous waste site, the $100 million containment cleanup of the former Brio Refinery Inc. facility in southeast Harris County was declared complete Thursday.
What remains at the 59-acre tract at Dixie Farm Road and Beamer are fields of green space with some sheet metal buildings and a water treatment plant.
The only indication that a hazardous waste site existed is the fence with "no trespassing" signs that surround the area.
During the lengthy process, residents won a battle to stop incineration at the site and an adjacent 667-home subdivision and nearby elementary school were razed.
"If I had it my way, we'd snap our fingers and everything would be gone and we'd have a park here, " said Marie Flickinger, a community activist who for years waged an effort to get the site cleaned up.
The announcement of the final containment completion was a low-key event Thursday morning held at the site.
The course of action to contain the hazardous materials at the former chemical reprocessing facility was started in March 1999.
Mike House, project coordinator for the Brio Site Task Force, described the containment as a bathtub with a lid.
The area now contains a layer of clay 45 feet deep that is tied to an underground barrier wall that extends 7,500 feet around the site.
Workers also installed 800 feet of sheet piling to stabilize Mud Gully, which runs through the site and feeds into Clear Creek.
The cover, or lid, over the entire area is made up of a gas collection layer, an impermeable flexible membrane, a layer of compacted clay and a vegetative cover. The cover will prevent infiltration of rainwater and capture any emissions that may be present, House said.
Water pumped from within the barrier wall is sent to the site's water treatment facility. Once treated and tested, the water is discharged to Mud Gully. The oils are sent off site for treatment.
David Hastings, manager of the Superfund program for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the cleanup effort has included the removal of 40,000 gallons of contaminated liquids from the earthen storage pits at the site.
Pollutants at the Brio site were styrene tars, vinyl chloride, chlorinated solvent residues, metallic catalyst and fuel oil residues.
House said the task force will continue operation and maintenance of the site indefinitely.
Myron Knudson, a Superfund director for the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, said the Brio site was unique in that "a lot of science was developed here." Officials developed an advanced air-monitoring system that was used following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and during the subsequent anthrax scare.
The initial cleanup of the Brio site lingered because of conflicting ideas on how best to handle it. The EPA and the Brio Site Task Force had agreed on incineration as the best method.
Flickinger and others in the community worried that incineration and any escaping fumes would force a nearby hospital and the San Jacinto College South campus to shut down.
A federal judge approved the incineration plan in April 1991.
Three years later and just prior to start-up of the incinerator, the the EPA's Superfund Revitalization Office and Office of Ombudsman in Washington, D.C., heeded the concerns of residents and ordered local EPA officials to conduct more tests at the site.
An incinerator, which had been installed at the site, was eventually dismantled and removed.
The Brio site was placed on the federal Superfund list of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites in 1989. The area had been home to a succession of companies from 1956 to 1982, when the last of them, Brio Refinery, went bankrupt in 1982.
The Brio site was built as a chemical reprocessing facility for materials, primarily petroleum chemicals that were to be reused in other industries, House said.
The Brio task force was formed because under the federal Superfund law, if the owner or operator of a site becomes insolvent, the companies that did business with the operator must take responsibility for the cleanup.
The task force today is made up of Allied Waste Industries, Atofina Petrochemicals, BP, ChevronTexaco, CNA Holdings, GE Petrochemicals, Huntsman Polymer Corp., Solutia and Union Carbide.
The Brio tract and its contaminated materials caused many in the adjacent South Bend subdivision to abandon their homes because of health concerns. There was an increase in upper respiratory ailments, central nervous system disorders and birth defects, particularly heart problems, said Flickinger, editor of the South Belt-Ellington Leader newspaper.
Homeowners eventually were bought out and the homes razed, along with the Arlyne Weber Elementary School that was 200 yards from the site. The Clear Creek school district was paid $7.3 million for the school.
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