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Big Tex update: testing, ho!

Apologies first off to Big Tex owner and San Antonio developer James Lifshutz, who did not request immunity from liability for any health problems that might befall former tenants of the one-time vermiculite-processing facility on the banks of the San Antonio River. He asked only for immunity from liability for workers who will be accessing the site over the next several months to determine the extent of asbestos contamination and develop and execute a remediation plan, says the EPA. (The feds can't grant that, either.) EPA On-Scene Coordinator Eric Delgado announced at Tuesday's community meeting that  the EPA now has access to the site and plans to begin collecting samples in mid-February -- an understanding that was seconded by Lifshutz. "That's what I heard at the meeting," he said, "and I believe it."

Several Southtown residents expressed frustration with the pace of remediation and redevelopment following the EPA's presentation. One realtor and developer asked whether it wouldn't be cheaper to just clean up the entire site rather than continue with rounds of testing to target contaminated areas (Nope, says Delgado, it would be wildly expensive to wet and scrape the entire seven-and-a-half acres). The expense matters, too, since the EPA must recoup the costs from its list of eligible payors. That list isn't based on culpability, but on ownership, says Delgado, which means if they can't get the funds from the pending W.R. Grace settlement or other sources, they could stick the current landowner with the bill. That result, says Lifshutz, would "prohibit it from being developed. So my hope is that they'll do what they need to do to collect the costs from the polluter."

More than one meeting attendee coveted Tuesday's colorful EPA Powerpoint presentation, which used old aerial maps and other info to create a grid showing the areas of Big Tex most likely to contain significant levels of asbestos contamination. Delgado says it will be available on a website he plans to have finished by Monday morning. The likely address: epaosc.net/bigtex.

We're also awaiting the promised Government Accountability Office's assessment of W.R Grace asbestos/vermiculite sites, including Big Tex, which the agency estimates will be completed this spring. The GAO released a report in October titled, "EPA May Need to Reassess Sites Receiving Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana, and Should Improve It's Public Notification Process" -- available at gao.gov and our nominee for 2007 Most Self-Explanatory Title of the Year.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 1/17/2008
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