Saturday, January 14, 2006

City, owner idle after EPA report’s unveiling

January 14,2006
Kaitlin Bell
The Monitor


Officials awaiting analysis of results before acting on Hayes-Sammons site

MISSION — An Environmental Protection Agency report indicating chemical contamination levels at the old Hayes-Sammons site are more than 100 times above what the state allows drew little reaction Friday from city officials and the site’s owner.

The report, which sampled soil, buildings and air at the former pesticide manufacturing plant on Holland Avenue, was released Thursday.

Of 21 chemicals EPA contractors tested, 13 were found to be in concentrations higher than what the state deems safe for industrial sites. And four were at more than 100 times what the state designates as safe.

Mission’s mayor, city manager and the site’s owner all said they hadn’t made up their minds yet about what the results meant and that they were waiting for EPA officials to explain the report’s findings to them and make recommendations on what to do next.

"As far as upsetting, I can’t say it’s upsetting," Mission City Manager Julio Cerda said of the contamination findings. "Whatever recommendations come from them, I guess they’re the ones who should know what to do next, and we’ll follow their lead."

Mayor Beto Salinas said he trusts the EPA to do what is best for the city.

Thursday’s report did not include recommendations for how to clean up or otherwise handle the site. EPA officials have said they will make plans about what to do after gathering feedback from the public at an open meeting scheduled for Jan. 26 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission.

For now, neither the city nor site owner John Hinojosa says they have plans to block off the site or otherwise restrict public access.

Hinojosa keeps the site’s three buildings locked but has repeatedly expressed concerns about vandals and thieves. Graffiti covers the buildings, and Hinojosa says trailers and pieces of machinery have been stolen.

There is no fence around the property, and neighborhood residents say they regularly see children playing amid the weeds and trash that cover the cracked asphalt parking lot. The contaminated soil sampled in the report for the most part lies less than three feet from the surface.

Neil Carman, a former state environmental inspector for industrial plants whom U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) has enlisted to help interpret the report, said people should exercise extreme caution around the property.

"I wouldn’t recommend anybody going on there unless they have full protective gear and breathing apparatus," said Carman, who is now director of the Sierra Club’s clean air program for Texas. "There should really be a fence around it."

Hinojosa said Carman’s warning did not trouble him.

"We’re here in this world and everything is contaminated, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear. They use chemicals for everything," he said. "When it’s your time, it’s your time."

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Kaitlin Bell covers Mission, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4446.
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