DEER PARK, Texas — Toxic wastewater used to extinguish a fire following a train derailment in Ohio is headed to a Houston suburb for disposal.
“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," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a Wednesday statement.
“Our Harris County Pollution Control Department and Harris County Attorney’s have reached out to the company and the Environmental Protection Agency to receive more information," Hidalgo wrote.
The wastewater is being sent to Texas Molecular, which injects hazardous waste into the ground for disposal.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told KTRK-TV that 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.”
The company told KHOU-TV it is experienced in managing this type of disposal.
“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,” the company said.
The fiery Feb. 3 derailment in Ohio prompted evacuations when toxic chemicals were burned after being released from five derailed tanker rail cars carrying vinyl choride that were in danger of exploding.
"It’s ... very, very toxic,” Dr. George Guillen, the executive director of the Environmental Institute of Houston, said, but the risk to the public is minimal.
“This injection, in some cases, is usually 4,000 or 5,000 feet down below any kind of drinking water aquifer,” said Guillen, who is also a professor of biology and environmental science at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Both Guillen and Deer Park resident Tammy Baxter said their greatest concerns are transporting the chemicals more than 1,300 miles (2,090 kilometers) from East Palestine, Ohio; to Deer Park, Texas.
“There has to be a closer deep well injection,” Baxter told KTRK. “It’s foolish to put it on the roadway. We have accidents on a regular basis ... It is silly to move it that far.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited the derailment site Thursday, has warned the railroad responsible for the derailment, Norfolk Southern, to fulfill its promises to clean up the mess just outside East Palestine, Ohio, and help the town recover.
Buttigieg has also announced a package of reforms intended to improve rail safety while regulators try to strengthen safety rules.