Thursday, July 11, 2013
Contamination from Exide battery plant carried down stream
The city found potentially harmful material near Lewisville Lake.
FRISCO Battery chips and hazardous materials likely originating from the closed Exide Technologies plant in Frisco have been discovered along Stewart Creek, and many clusters reside on land that will be used for the city's proposed 275-acre regional park.
Frisco Unleaded, an advocacy group monitoring the battery recycling plant's demolition, obtained documents from the city through a Freedom of Information Act request that detailed multiple studies regarding the contamination. The documents indicate the city has been aware of the contamination for about two years.
Of numerous samples taken from the creek's sediment in November 2011 by a city contractor, 71 percent showed levels of lead, cadmium, or arsenic that exceeded the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's ecological benchmarks. The creek, which runs from the Exide property to Lewisville Lake, is partially located where a proposed man-made lake for the city's planned $29 million Grand Park will reside following approval from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
In addition to the samples, contractors hired by the city of Frisco performed a "walking survey" earlier this year to document any visible battery chips and waste that may have originated from the Exide plant. During the visual survey, which took place in March and April, 45 locations along the five-mile path of Stewart Creek were documented as showing battery chips or waste.
A potentially hazardous sample was found near where the creek merges with Lewisville Lake.
Meghan Green, a board member of Frisco Unleaded, said the potential contamination of Stewart Creek will continue until Exide's land is fully cleaned to acceptable levels.
"The creek itself has been remediated multiple times -- this isn't a new problem," she said. "This all goes back to Exide's land, which is the source of the problem. When we went to look at a portion of the creek near Exide, it took us maybe five minutes find battery chips -- they were everywhere."
Green added that she supports the regional park but wants the city to ensure visitors will be protected.
"Grand Park is going to be great for the city of Frisco, and I can't wait to take my children there," she said. "I just want the park done right, and to do that we have to focus on the source of the problem. Unless Exide's property is cleaned up fully, this is going to be an issue for a long time. I'm optimistic it will be resolved, but by exposing these documents we're hoping people will understand this is more than just an air pollution problem -- it's the water and land as well."
In joint meetings held by the Frisco City Council and its Grand Park subcommittee, city officials have maintained that any land used for Grand Park will meet rigorous standards set by both the city and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. City Manager George Purefoy echoed those statements at a town hall meeting last month, saying any contamination will be removed.
Last year, however, a TCEQ inspector wrote that she worried park attendees could be harmed by potential contamination from the Exide plant.
In a letter to her supervisors, the inspector wrote that battery chips were discovered in areas of Exide's land that were previously cleaned. The chips, she said, were likely being carried into Stewart Creek by rainwater.
According to the inspector's letter, a city official said areas of the creek where the chips were discovered would be covered by specialized fabric lining when Grand Park is developed.
"I pointed out that ... there were just too many [battery chips] that had accumulated to be covered up with the fabric. As we all know, these chips move under rainy conditions," she wrote. "I told [the city] that our concern, and I'm sure the city's concern as well, is if these battery chips made it into Stewart Creek and flowed to Grand Park where a parent who is also a Frisco resident pulls one out of their child's mouth."
Mack Borchardt, who is overseeing the Exide cleanup as a special assistant to the city manager, said the city isn't hiding the contamination as the area is still in the process of being studied.
"When we provide information, we have to be mindful that it's accurate -- not just what we believe is going to be the case," he said. "The land being used for Grand Park was farm land for a long time, and only recently has the city fully owned all of it. We intended to do an environmental assessment all along, and that's what we're doing. It's been factored into the Grand Park project from the beginning."
Borchardt added that he doesn't expect the studies to impact progress on Grand Park. The city will enter a voluntary cleanup program monitored by the TCEQ, he said, and seek financial reimbursement from Exide if the company is found to be the source of the pollution.
Green said Frisco Unleaded members are hopeful the Environmental Protection Agency will become involved in the cleanup to provide a "security blanket" of federal oversight, though city officials have said there are no plans to seek full EPA oversight.
An Exide spokeswoman said the city informed the company of the studies and that discussions regarding the cleanup of the company's property with city and environmental agency officials are ongoing.
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