Investigation: Why nearly a dozen tankers bring cancer-causing chemical to Houston-area from NC each month

DEER PARK, Texas – In picturesque North Carolina, along the seemingly pristine Cape Fear River, a chemical company called Chemours was caught discharging an industrial byproduct called GenX and it showed up in the drinking water.

Now, that chemical is being brought to Texas from North Carolina. KPRC 2 Investigates looked into why it’s being brought here and what’s being done with the chemical once it arrives.

What is GenX?

GenX is the trade name of perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid, which is used to make Teflon, fast food wrappers and other products.

What health effects are associated with GenX chemicals?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal studies have shown health effects in the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetuses and, especially, in the liver following oral exposure. The data are suggestive of cancer.

How is it getting to Texas?

Since June 2017 Chemours began capturing the wastewater that included the GenX. Then, starting the week of Nov. 13, 2017, the company began arranging to have the wastewater transported by tanker truck and rail for disposal in Deer Park, Texas. Specifically, it’s being sent to Texas Molecular for deep-well injection. Texas Molecular is a Class1 Deep Well. Since 2017, the company has commissioned an average of 10 tanker trucks a day to haul away the wastewater for offsite disposal, according to the Chemours plant manager.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has spoken numerous times about the dangers of GenX. In August 2017, she appeared at a town hall meeting in North Carolina.

Recently, Brockovich was in Houston for a town hall meeting to discuss a different matter. KPRC 2 asked Brockovich about Chemours’ plan to dispose of the GenX through deep well injection.

“Well that could be a problem... tanks deteriorate, bottoms rust, they break open. We don’t know it and we wind up with another massive groundwater contamination,” Brockovich said.

KPRC 2 Investigates discovered Texas Molecular did not need to have a public hearing in order to accept the GenX from Chemours in North Carolina.

“Texas Molecular is not required to have a specific approval or public hearing for deep well disposal of GenX waste, because this waste stream is covered under the listing of industrial wastes authorized to be injected in its three UIC Class I permits,” according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Transporting GenX

On Sept. 18, 2018, a tanker truck carrying rainwater from Hurricane Florence, from on-site dikes at Chemours in North Carolina leaked during transport about four miles from the plant. When residents took samples of the wastewater on the road, it tested to show the water had 2.85 million parts per trillion of GenX. That’s 17,000 times the state’s provisional health goal for GenX in drinking water of 140 parts per trillion.

State officials said the health goal standard does not apply to the water in the truck, which is considered to be wastewater.

Coal City Cob is one of the companies that transports the wastewater from Chemours in North Carolina to Deer Park. KPRC 2 Investigates asked for Coal City Cob’s inspection records in Texas. It has multiple violations. On two occasions Texas Department of Transportation inspectors ordered their trucks out of service. Those rigs were carrying waste to Deer Park.

When KPRC 2 asked for an interview with officials from Texas Molecular, and tour of the Deer Park facility, they provided the following statement:

“We communicate with our stakeholders and constituents directly. This includes the City of Deer Park, the Deer Park Citizens Advisory Council, the Deer Park Local Emergency Planning Committee, the TCEQ and the EPA. We work with many clients and customers and we do not discuss specific work we are doing with our customers. All of our work is done with the oversight of the appropriate regulatory authorities. Information about underground injection technology and permitting is available from the EPA,” wrote Frank Marine, President of Texas Molecular.

In December 2018, the EPA sent a Temporary Objection letter to Chemours asking for more specific details concerning the shipment and management of the water. It lists 16 items, including asking for more specific information regarding the transport of the GenX.

The Future of GenX Disposal

According to the Chemours’ plant manager by some time in 2020, instead of convoys of tankers, new technology will vaporize the wastewater and break down all but a tiny fraction of the fluorochemicals.

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