Recaptured toxic wastewater that was used to extinguish a fire after a Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio is now headed to a Houston, Texas suburb for disposal, according to a top official from Harris County.
"I and my office heard today that ‘firefighting water’ from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment is slated to be disposed of in our county," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in a Wednesday statement on Twitter. "Our Harris County Pollution Control Department and Harris County Attorney’s Office have reached out to the company and the Environmental Protection Agency to receive more information about the timing, transportation mechanisms, and contents, as well as to ensure all regulations are being met."
I heard the news today about East Palestine “firefighting water” being sent to Harris County and will continue pushing for information for our community. pic.twitter.com/lMyJYPtTdT
— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) February 23, 2023
Further details were not provided, though Hidalgo said that her office is working closely with the mayor of Deer Park, Texas.
"I have communicated with Deer Park Emergency Management and Mayor [Jerry] Mouton and am very sensitive to the concerns that this news naturally brings to our community," Hildago's statement continues. "We will keep residents informed as we learn more."
The wastewater is headed to Texas Molecular, which has a process for injecting hazardous waste into the ground for disposal. This comes on the heels of a statement by Ohio EPA officials, who said that the chemicals used to put out the fire may have seeped into the Ohio River - partially forming into a plume of chemicals that is moving downstream.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Molecular "is authorized to accept and manage a variety of waste streams, including vinyl chloride, as part of their … hazardous waste permit and underground injection control permit," which includes vinyl chloride - one of the ingredients carried by the train when it derailed.
"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," Texas Molecular said in a statement to KHOU-TV.
The company will inject the water extremely deep into the earth.
"This injection, in some cases, is usually 4,000 or 5,000 feet down below any kind of drinking water aquifer," said George Guillen, the executive director of the Environmental Institute of Houston who holds a doctorate in environmental science, who says the risk to the public is minimal despite it being "very, very toxic" material.
The three-dozen Norfolk Southern train cars that derailed earlier this month had “11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials that subsequently ignited, fueling fires that damaged an additional 12 non-derailed railcars,” the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. Five of the derailed cars were carrying about 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, the report found.
The five cars with the toxic substance “continued to concern authorities because the temperature inside one tank car was still rising,” which could have resulted in an explosion, the report also found. When the controlled release and burn were initiated, officials forced locals in East Palestine to evacuate before allowing them to return days later.