Residents to TCEQ: We want answers
With an X-ray film in hand and tears welled up in her eyes, Krystal Henagan was one of many to speak at the informational meeting to answer questions on the Air Quality Permit Application by Sand Mining of Texas.
Approximately 20 concerned residents shared their concerns at the three-hour meeting on May 11, at the Pleasanton Civic Center. The question and answer meeting was hosted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, at the request of State Rep. Ryan Guillen and moderated by TCEQ Notice and Public Meeting Manager Brad Patterson. Local officials in attendance included Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley, Guillen’s Chief of Staff Robert McVey, County Commissioners Lonnie Gillespie, Eliseo Perez and Bill Carroll; Justice of the Peace Michael Pascarella; Pleasanton City Manager Johnny Huizar; and Evergreen UWCD Directors Larry Fox and Jay Troell. President of Preferred Sands T.J. Doyle was also in attendance.
Sand Mining of Texas is the company that has received their permit-by-rule to build a wet sand mining production plant on the corner of Old Applewhite Road and Bruce Road, just north of Leming.
Krystal Henagan leads the Texas Chapter of Moms Clean Air Force and shared her testimony to warn others.
“The agency tasked with protecting Texans’ health and environment from pollution like that of open pit surface mines has a history that jeopardizes the health of Texans, including from air pollution from sand and gravel mines. I would know, I used to live next to a quarry in San Antonio,” said Henagan.
Shortly after moving to San Antonio in 2013, their 4-year-old son’s health began to decline, starting with asthma. Tanner’s health grew worse and Krystal noticed his health improved when they visited other parts of the state.
“Tanner’s compromised lungs allowed me to see first-hand how significantly air pollution, but more importantly, that TCEQ inaction, could impact the quality of life for children and families. And no matter how often I cleaned the house, I noticed white dust would quickly come back. There was so much dust in the air outside tracked out from the quarry that it pushed into our home. Silica, used in their operations, was later found in our home. By the time he saw a pediatric pulmonologist Tanner had 12-14 clots of mucous plugging his lungs and was diagnosed with reactive airway disease, which exacerbates asthma. His pulmonologist documented limestone dust and silica exposures as the likely the cause of his declining health,” said Henagan.
While they were awaiting TCEQ’s analysis of the chemical spill and unknown sediment blanketing her community, one of the quarries under investigation by TCEQ for this spill submitted a “voluntary disclosure of violations” audit. Violations dating back to 1991 were found.
“If you were to stack these violations back to back, it would have been over 150 years’ worth of violations that had been going on right underneath TCEQ’s nose- literally, the Region 13 office was just down the road from this large mining operation. TCEQ never caught these violations, not even the hazardous waste violations to know which chemicals at the mine were hazardous and which ones were not,” explained Henagan.
“With your history of allowing violations to occur at an open pit mine that I once lived by, and the fact that regulations are designed to protect public health, how often and thorough will your on-site inspections be at Sand Mining of Texas’ mine so that you can live up to your core mission to protect Texan’s health?” She also asked how TCEQ will ensure, without relying solely on invalidated self-reports, that violations are not occurring at Sand Mining of Texas.
Sam Short, TCEQ permit division manager explained permits-by-rule, which Sand Mining of Texas has been authorized for. PBRs are designed for facilities that produce minimal emissions in terms of their permitting.
“At this time they are authorized under three permits-by-rule. They are for wet sand mining, the mining of the sand and then the drying of the sand and then the stockpiling of that sand after it has been dried,” said Short.
One speaker commented on how we are over a recharge zone and each company permitted will do the maximum they can under TCEQ regulations. When all companies are operational and they exceed the air quality limits, what is TCEQ going to do about it, questioned the gentleman.
Booker Harrison answered as part of the general requirements, they have to keep records and conduct some visual inspections, opacity reviews, etc.
“If there is something they are failing to do to be in compliance with the permit-by-rule, then the regional office can document it. Depending on what it is, will dictate the course of a potential notice of violation or enforcement action going down the road.”
Joel Anderson, TCEQ Regional Director said their job is to inspect these facilities and handle complaints. He asked that if anyone has a nuisance complaint, that they call the Regional Office and they will come down and conduct an investigation.
Jay Troell briefly read TCEQ’s responsibilities, as well as the letter Judge Hurley sent to TCEQ asking what chemicals are added in the process and what it will do to air quality, groundwater impact and downstream impact. In the letter, TCEQ states that Sand Mining of Texas represented that no chemicals or flocculants would be used at this time. Consequently, the permit does not authorize the use of chemicals.
There will be fuel storage on that site and the containment of that fuel in a flood prone area could be a serious question. Troell asked, “Can you assure the citizens of Atascosa County that you will enforce Chapter 334 on this new plant?”
TCEQ reps answered that they have spill rules, so yes, they would ensure it was addressed appropriately.
Troell asked what TCEQ was going to do prior to prevent it.
Joel Anderson of TCEQ answered, “They will have to have a registration and depending on the size of the tank, there will be varying levels of protection, secondary containment and things like that. We will make sure that they follow whatever regulations are applicable, absolutely.”
Resident Oscar Korus reiterated how the recharge zone is a much more fragile area. What kind of security do we have that no contamination will be done to the aquifer. At the March meeting in Poteet, Preferred Sands told them when they are done with the project, the land will be 90 feet lower. That whole area is a water shed for Galvan Creek, so water flows downhill. Who will detect chemicals if they are used? Are you going to rely on them to report it? He asked if there are any safeguards for plants over recharge zones.
Anderson said there are spill prevention and control, spill regulations, wastewater pond regulations, a whole set of other measures in place. Another rep said he did not believe so, that there were any extra protection for those in a recharge zone.
Jessie Hardy asked about an email exchange from January, in which TCEQ confirmed Sand Mining of Texas’s appropriateness for a PBR and that it would only take a matter of one-two weeks.
Hardy asked, “How could you be able to say this would pass in a certain length of time without a full plan?”
Short said, for PBRs there is an established time frame of 45 days. If they come in and they meet all the conditions and they demonstrate that to them, the time frame is 45 days. Hardy mentioned how the email had indicated two weeks.
She discussed how SMT’s plan mentions items like a clarifier pump, etc. which show a diagram for added chemicals. Why wasn’t the list of chemicals required as well, asked Hardy..
“So we did ask if they would be using any chemicals or flocculants and were told, at this time, they would not be using any. If they choose to do so, they are not authorized to do it. They would have to come in, provide those lists of chemicals to us and provide a data sheet of those chemicals for them to evaluate,” answered TCEQ reps.
Preferred Sands confirmed this after the meeting explaining, “Our current registration does not allow the use of flocculants or chemicals. If we do end up using flocculants, we would have to go back to TCEQ with another registration to take care of that. It is clearly spelled out in our permit and clearly spelled out in the Evergreen UWCD’s water permit.”
Jessie pointed out the chemicals she is questioning are not limited to these chemicals or flocculants, but chemicals used to clean machinery to avoid build- up. Why is this not included in the plan?
Hardy also asked if these facilities are safe, then why are their limits set on how close they have to be? TCEQ responded, “The distance set is to make it protective to human health so the particulate matter, the dust that comes up is a certain weight, so the distance sets where most of that particulate matter will drop out before it reaches past that distance.”
Hardy questioned, “So, if I am inside that line, is it not safe?”
“I believe it is still protective, but it is determined that it would be at its maximum protection to have you outside,” said TCEQ.
Robert McVey, who has served as Guillen’s Chief of Staff for approximately 15 years said they have been monitoring the issue closely, ever since they were contacted.
“We have been in contact with Russell Wilson and others here who have been very involved in all of this. I am very pleased to bring TCEQ tonight. They are the ones who keep track of this all over the state,” said McVey.
He shared how there are not enough protections right now. They are hopeful that more can be done to make things better in the future.
Russell Wilson spoke on how the last time TCEQ regulations for wet sand mines were last amended was 1997. This industry is evolving rapidly and how can changes be made to change regulations?
One option is to submit a petition for rule making. TCEQ explained the process to get the petition before the Commissioner. Then it would be decided whether to initiate rule-making or not.
Janice Jones, who lives one mile from the Sand Mining of Texas site spoke on air pollution and how the trees that serve as good filters will be bulldozed. She asked what type of air monitoring would be done and was told there would be an air monitor 18 miles from the facility.
Other points brought up throughout the meeting: if OSHA has more stringent regulations to protect workers, will TCEQ do something similar and make more stringent regulations to protect the neighbors of these facilities; how often does TCEQ monitor and have there ever been revocations for anyone who has deliberately misled them?
Larry Fox said he is concerned because of the location over the recharge zone and in a flood plain. Galvan Creek runs right through the property, so any chemical spills could get into that creek. This poses a serious threat to our groundwater.
Fox spoke on how Sand Mining of Texas has stated publicly they will use chemicals.
“Either they are publicly violating their permit, which I don’t think is their case, or they know they can come to you all and get that permit changed to allow them to use chemicals. Am I correct in that?” Fox asked.
Sam Short responded if they wanted to use chemicals they would have to come before TCEQ and present what chemicals they are. Then TCEQ would evaluate them and determine if it would affect air quality.
Fox said he was talking about water quality, not air quality. Another TCEQ rep responded that right now, the only water quality permit the company has is a storm water permit, which allows for the discharge of storm water that accumulates on the site. It would become a totally different situation if they started using chemicals. If that were the case, they would be required to get an individual permit which has a much more stringent review with more restrictive parameters. The public would then be afforded the opportunity to comment and actually protest the permit.
Fox also addressed other issues, like how someone with the water quality division of TCEQ had told him this was the first known incident of a frac sand mine going in right over the recharge zone.
“In that particular area, the top of the Carrizo is not that far below where they are going to be operating, so you still have the potential for surface water contamination. We’ve got a big can of worms here and someone needs to take the bull by the horns and let’s try to work this thing out. There are hundreds of thousands of people that depend on that Carrizo Wilcox aquifer. So every attempt that we and you can make to protect it is what we should do, I would think,” Fox said, to a round of applause.
Another gentleman said he needed some reassurance. About 15 years ago, he noticed that after a four-five inch rain, the Galvan Creek would turn red. Investigators were sent to try and determine where it was coming from. After four-five years, the resident got a satellite image during a heavy rain and found it was coming from Martin Marietta, so he sent it to TCEQ. After a site investigation, it was determined the berms were breached. He said Martin Marietta put a plan together to rebuild berms so it would not happen again. However, the red silt-laden water occurred again.
“I have written you several letters my neighbors have written and nothing has really been done,” said the gentleman. “About three years ago Mr. Higgenbotham informed me that apparently Martin Marietta has a special dispensation to dump into the Galvan Creek.”
He said he realized that TCEQ may have legislation restrictions, but to his knowledge Martin Marietta has been allowed to dump at will and nothing happens. His point was not so much to discuss the MM investigation. He said his point was the overall lack of consistency in TCEQ enforcing regulations.
Joel said he could not speak on the specific investigation. He did not know if violations were written and what he was referring to as far as special dispensation and apologized.
Leroy Myers moved to the Alanna Heights subdivision just north of Poteet approximately two months ago. As soon as he moved in, so did the Redi-Frac sand mine behind his property. He asked how close the whole facility where they would be excavating could come to his property line.
The TCEQ rep answered the facility is the equipment which would process, dry and size the sand.
The facility is three-tenths of a mile from Myers’ backyard. He asked also about monitoring the dust.
“When you mine the sand, you dig it up with a shovel or an excavator- you’re disturbing it,” said Myers.
He also asked if one can grind particulates so it becomes finer. TCEQ answered that this authorization does not allow for grinding or crushing.
“But can you do it physically with your fingers or with a shovel or an excavator?”
The sand that they are mining is supposed to be wet and should clump to the hand, so it should not be dry when it is mined, explained TCEQ.
Myers asked if the definition of mining is when they disturb the sand.
“At that point in time, it becomes airborne, does it not? You are regulating air quality?”
TCEQ said they have a nuisance rule. No facility can emit contaminants that would cause a person to not be able to use and enjoy their property. Residents can submit photos as evidence or file a complaint at the TCEQ website.
“Will you take a trip to my house?” asked Myers. “They are excavating 200 feet from my property line. My home is approximately 60 feet from my property line. I am not 18
miles away so those monitors won’t do me any good. I am constantly living and breathing in a cloud of dust.”
Myers asked what is the acceptable safe limit for the silica.
Dr. Tiffany Bredfeldt, TXEQ senior toxicologist, said it depends on how it is used. She began saying there is a low level of silica, to which Myers interrupted that this is a different plant than Sand Mining of Texas. The rep continued and said it depends on the situation. She said in Myer’s case he could look on their site online to see what levels they consider safe. She said just because you are exposed, does not necessarily mean there will be a health effect.
“In this particular instance, you can’t get the particulate matter, at least from what is projected to come from the mining operation itself, into the deeper parts of your lung where the effect of the silica would actually happen,” said Bredfeildt.
Myers extended his invitation to his house once more. He said the company is going full-fledged and he asked why someone could not have just sent a letter or knocked on his door to make him aware of the frac sand mine behind his house. He would have stopped construction had he known.
Other questions asked were how will Sand Mining of Texas contain the dust there, if the plant on the other side cannot and whether there is a limit to how many companies can come in to the area.
Attorney for the Not Just Dust- Bruce Rd. group Rob Salmon asked how often does TCEQ conduct checks to make sure it is operating and was told every three years.
Other upcoming meetings
The next Not Just Dust- Bruce Rd. meeting is Thursday, May 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the Poteet VFW Hall.
Discussion and possible action on the request for a rehearing by Not Just Dust on the production permit amendments for Sand Mining of Texas is on the agenda for the Friday, May 19 EUWCD meeting. It begins at 9 a.m. at the office in the Pleasanton Industrial Park off of Highway 281 South.
Also, see next week’s issue for a feature on Leroy Myers and how he has already been affected.