HOUSTON – On Monday, a chemical leak continued to be cleaned up in a southeast Houston neighborhood – a cleanup that now involves federal agencies.
The leak is from the former CES Waste Disposal plant that used to recycle and dispose of chemical materials. It was shut down five years ago by federal and state authorities, but many potentially hazardous chemicals remain and are unguarded.
The site is now under the control of a trustee appointed by the U.S. bankruptcy court. Over the weekend that trustee allowed several environmental cleanup agencies onto the premises to help cleanup.
Meanwhile, surrounding residents say they've gotten few answers as to what's going on.
"It's just a foul, like nauseating, chemical like smell," that's how one resident, Sherelle Hill, describes the odor that's been plaguing her neighborhood for days.
You just have to peak over Hill's backyard fence to see the root of the cause; the old CES plant.
Gary Moore, the on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, says that unknown chemicals are just sitting in containers on the property. According to Moore, this latest neighborhood dilemma may have been caused on purpose.
"Apparently there was some vandalism that took place on the property," Moore explains, "a valve was opened. We're thinking about 2,500 gallons were released."
The question many resident have - gallons of what?
"We're not sure exactly what it is yet, but we plan on taking a sample of that tank and we'll get some results as soon as we can," Moore said.
When the plant was operational the hazardous materials were kept behind a barbed wire fence, accessed by an electronic key code. If you visit that same fence now, huge sections have been cut out, making those chemicals available to just about anyone.
City Councilman Dwight Boykins, with District D, stopped by to see firsthand what the residents in that area are dealing with.
"Very unhealthy," Boykins muttered while surveying the old site. "We have residents, senior citizens and others living in this area breathing this mess. It's a sad day. Sad situation."
Boykins, like the residents, wants the area cleaned up ASAP.
"It's time for something to happen. It's good to see the EPA out here."
Hill, who says she's been dealing with problems from this old plant for years, wonders when the site will be cleaned up for good.
"Is anyone concerned about the neighbors and the neighborhood that we actually live in?" she asks. "When is it going to end? When are we going to get our lives back?"
As of Monday evening the cleanup is a joint effort between the City, the EPA and ETCQ.
Moore says that although the odor in the area is overwhelmingly unpleasant, they are regularly monitoring the air quality for dangerous conditions and so far the danger is low. According to Moore, the cleanup will be paid for by tax payer dollars and could reach up to $2 million on their end alone.