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Three Mile Island - Webster, Texas

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by Jeff, Aug 8, 2002.

  1. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    Ugh.

    <i>Cleanup could cost millions, but officials see no health threat
    By TONY FREEMANTLE
    Copyright 2002 2002, Houston Chronicle

    A local company in bankruptcy abandoned two industrial buildings full of highly radioactive materials, leaving the federal government and taxpayers with a $8.5 million tab for cleaning up a virtually unprecedented and dangerous nuclear mess.

    For more than 20 years, Gulf Nuclear of Louisiana Inc. manufactured radioactive materials in a nondescript building in the heart of Webster's medical center and in an equally unremarkable facility near Hobby Airport.

    When the company filed for bankruptcy in 1992, it essentially closed the doors and walked away from the Webster location without cleaning its mess, and conducted a cursory cleanup at the other site.

    Last year, because Gulf Nuclear still had not done anything to clean the heavily contaminated Webster site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was called to tackle the difficult and dangerous task, using emergency Superfund money.

    Some material from the Webster building is so radioactive it cannot legally be disposed of at any existing facility in the United States. It will have to be stored and most likely deposited in the government's proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

    Moreover, while it poses no immediate threat to public health and safety, the contamination at both sites is bad enough to warrant the destruction of the buildings, which have a combined appraised value of more than $620,000.

    Michael Dunn, chief of industrial licensing for the Texas Department of Health's Bureau of Radiation, said there was no indication that any radiation had escaped the building and threatened the surrounding communities.

    He said for 15 years the department has monitored the perimeter of the Webster building, but despite occasional readings higher than "ambient levels, we do not have reason to believe that there has been a large" amount of radiation that has made it off-site.

    On Wednesday, cleanup operations at the Webster site continued with a team comprising workers from the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a private environmental cleanup company. Temporary offices have been established on site, where security is now present 24 hours a day.

    Greg Fife, an EPA veteran who is the on-site coordinator for the cleanup, said when he and other federal officials first entered the Webster building in January, they expected to find most of the contamination confined to the "hot room," a sealed, lead-lined area where the radioactive materials were kept and handled. They also expected to find the radiation was coming from about 12 sources.

    Instead, they found more than 360 sources, and contamination so widespread that workers almost certainly were exposed to very high, very dangerous levels of radioactivity.

    In one area outside the "hot room," Fife said workers would have been exposed to one year's worth of acceptable radiation in 38 minutes.

    "Anybody that's been in there would have no reluctance to call the operation sloppy and unprofessional," Fife said.

    Gulf Nuclear began operations at the two sites in 1971, initially supplying radioactive tracers for the oil industry. Over time it began making devices using Americium-241, beryllium, cesium-137, irridium-192 and other isotopes that were used for a variety of purposes -- medical diagnostic devices, aircraft fuel gauges, fluid-density gauges.

    Americium-241 is by far the worst isotope, with a half-life of 432.7 years, meaning that it takes that long for the substance to lose half its radioactivity.

    Fife said Americium contamination in the Webster building is widespread. About $10,000 of it was found lying in an open box. Glove boxes (the devices used by workers standing outside of the hot room to manipulate chemicals inside) are coated with radioactive powder. Raw materials were spilled on the floor. There was evidence that workers used plastic coffee cups to mix radioactive chemicals, which were stored in plastic ice trays.

    Investigators even found a sealed room with fake walls in which was entombed thousands of dollars worth of contaminated equipment, Fife said.

    "I've done this for 15 years," the veteran federal environmental regulator said. "I've seen nasty sites where things fell apart because of a lack of money. I've seen cases where the owners of a facility couldn't cope with the problem. But I have never seen such total disregard for the neighbors or the workers."

    Virtually all the contamination at both sites occurred between 1971 and 1992 -- the year that Gulf Nuclear filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, seeking protection from its creditors while it reorganized. The company then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2000, seeking to liquidate and close.

    From 1992 to 2000, little was done to clean up the Webster facility, Fife said.

    "Basically they just walked off," he said. "They got their money during the oil boom and then they just walked off."

    The company made an effort to clean up the Hobby Airport site, located in the 9300 block of Tavenor, Fife said. It erected a building to store the hazardous waste from the facility and partially demolished the existing buildings.

    Through the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Texas Department of Health regulates and licenses companies that handle nuclear materials.

    Dunn said department inspectors visited the facilities once or twice a year. The reason nothing alerted inspectors to problems that according to Fife were evident, could be that "they weren't told some things," Dunn said.

    The Gulf Nuclear operation is one of only two of its kind in the state licensed by the health department, Dunn said.

    "This is a rare one," he said. Carl Shaw, president and CEO of The GNI Group, the parent company of Gulf Nuclear, did not return a phone call to his home seeking comment. Neither did two attorneys representing him. But in an affidavit filed in support of his company's 2000 bankruptcy petition, he states GNI has five wholly owned subsidiaries, including Gulf Nuclear of Louisiana Inc.

    On Sept. 12, 2000, a year before any regulatory agencies were involved in the cleanup, Shaw states under oath, that Gulf Nuclear's properties are "currently undergoing decontamination" and that once that is completed they will be "released for sale by the appropriate regulatory authorities."

    The EPA's Fife said nothing of any substance had been done to decontaminate the Webster facility before the EPA's involvement in October 2001.

    Bill Reeves is a former officer at Gulf Nuclear who now works as vice president for regulatory affairs at Texas Molecular, a Deer Park-based company that bought some of the Gulf Nuclear's assets. During the eight years the company was in Chapter 11, he said, "for whatever reason, they couldn't sell that building."

    "Those two buildings are not glow-in-the-dark buildings," Reeves said. "They're not a danger to the community. But there is no doubt they need to be cleaned up. And I'm real glad I never had anything to do with that part of the business." </i>
     
  2. s land balla

    s land balla Contributing Member

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  3. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    What pisses me off about this is that the company just freakin' bailed! They filed for bankrupsy so they didn't have to pay their bills, pocketed whatever cash they made and left taxpayers to clean up after them.

    :mad:
     
  4. rockHEAD

    rockHEAD Contributing Member

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    do you think Bush and his administration will be as hard on these lowlifes as they are claiming to be against the people of WorldCom and various other scandalous entities? Will ever so much as a peep be even mentioned of this travesty by the office of the president? Will any criminal charges ever be filed? Are the former owners even liable?
     
  5. lpbman

    lpbman Member

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    [​IMG]

    don't step in the mutagen
     
  6. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    :eek: !!!

    Whoever was responsible should go to jail. The workers should be tracked down and checked out. It would be amazing from what was in the article if some of the employees weren't at serious risk from exposure. What will probably happen is a bunch of finger pointing and not much else. I have friends and relatives in the area who won't be happy to hear this.

    Thanks for the heads-up, Jeff. Unbelievable.
     
  7. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    I'm not an environmental law attorney...that's a pretty specialized niche...and I didn't read the entire article, so it may have already answered this question...but I have to think there is some statute somewhere these guys violated...certainly reckless with very hazardous and regulated substances...i would think there would be some criminal penalty for the company...some fine that would not be dischargeable in a bankruptcy.
     
  8. RocketsPimp

    RocketsPimp Contributing Member

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    Agreed. We can not let these people get away with this without some serious repurcussions. Someone should dump some of that stuff on their front lawns. I bet they clean that up real quick!

    :mad:
     
  9. TheFreak

    TheFreak Contributing Member

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    Would it make any difference to you if they were?
     
  10. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    You don't think that people who break the law deserve to be punished?
     
  11. tozai

    tozai Member

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    Do you think they would even say something if there really was high radiation levels?
     
  12. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    Dubya is supposed to be a Texan. He wants to be elected again. Texas is a huge electoral prize. Don't you think he should speak out loud about this and see that something is done, and quickly? Not a pretty speech, but real action. Land on the people and their companies like a ton of bricks. After all, he's the "compassionate guy".
     
  13. TheFreak

    TheFreak Contributing Member

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    :confused:

    I was commenting on his opinion of Bush.
     
  14. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    My bad. I thought you were commenting on the last sentence you quoted from rockHEAD:

     
  15. BrianKagy

    BrianKagy Contributing Member

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    I don't get you people. You want to be living in the future with your flying cars and clones and intelligent robots ("robits", as Grandpa used to say), but you're not willing to accept the radiation and mutations that come with it?

    I for one welcome whatever changes fate has in store for the genetic blueprint. Mostly because I think it would be cool to see a six-foot vagina, so we're probaby gonna need some 100-foot-tall women like in the movie. If I know my science right-- bear with me, I'm a state school grad-- radiation will cause exactly that kind of metamorphosis.
     
  16. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    Hey, BK, we want our flying cars and "intelligent robits". We want our clones, drones, and talking puppy dogs. And I, for one, would like to see a 6 foot vagina, preferably with legs. (although it would scare the hell out of me and make me feel inadequate :p)

    We just don't want them to glow in the dark!

    (I don't know if we is a group, if we are a royal we, or if we are alone. ;))
     
  17. Joe Joe

    Joe Joe Go Stros!
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    Tomacco, Yuck. Can I have ten more please?
     
  18. rockHEAD

    rockHEAD Contributing Member

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    I don't know if ya'll know this or not, but the clean up on this facility has been going on for over a year now. I wonder why it's just now in the news? (my wife works for the company that's doing the clean up)
     
  19. TL

    TL Contributing Member

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    Without a doubt, it appears that the Company shirked their responsibilities when it comes to the environmental laws (to put it mildly). At the very least they should have been investing significantly more money in properly disposing of the toxic material all along (which would have made their costs go through the roof and forced the Company to file and liquidate much earlier).

    But I don't get this comment:

    The Company's business plan failed. Initially, they thought they could make money and deliver a return to their private investors (most likely the same people as Management) with their plan. They couldn't. THey failed. If this Company had been operating under the supervision of a court in Ch. 11 for 8 years, it's unlikley that the Exec Management or Equity pocketed anything. I take that back. Exec Management probably had a good salary, but in Ch. 11 it's nearly impossible to get money to equity without the approval of the creditors.

    When they filed for CH 7, they probably had no cash to do anything other than liquidate and give their creditors pennies on the dollar.

    The taxpayers are now cleaning this up, because two sides f-ed up. THe Company did by not abiding by environmentla regs. The government probably did by not watching the Company to ensure they were abiding by the regs. After all, isn't part of the responsibility of the EPA to be an oversight body? Shouldn't they have paid some attention???

    It pisses me off that people are sleazy enough to put other lives at risk for their own wallets. It also pisses me off that the government body that I fund with my paycheck slacked off and let this get to the current point in the first place.
     
  20. Invisible Fan

    Invisible Fan Contributing Member

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    Answer to all of the questions is probably no. Unless this case gets huge attention, it'll be kept hidden in the dark. Besides, Bush's financial policy plan is going to reduce Superfund...

    For all those people who wnat cruel and outlandish punishments for rapists and murderers, I feel like a court should sentence those CEOs to live in that place for ten years and see if they can walk away then.
     

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