It's a winter afternoon in San Antonio (which is to say it's
82 degrees and blindlingly sunny). The light glints off the windowpanes
of the restored King William mansions across the river, and makes it
difficult to look square on at the EPA contractors in their white suits
and yellow booties. Eric Delgado, EPA on-scene coordinator for the Big
Tex Libby site, is mercifully dressed in a blue EPA Emergency Response
The word "emergency" reads ironic in this context: local residents have been waiting for more than three years
for some agency, any agency, to fully screen the site for the presence
of Libby asbestos, a pernicious form of tremolite asbestos whose tiny
fibers have sickened hundreds of residents of Libby, Montana, where
contaminated vermiculite was mined by W.R. Grace for decades and
shipped to more than 200 processing facilities throughout the country,
including Big Tex. Libby was added to the National Priorities List of
the Superfund program in 2002.
Between now and next Tuesday, Delgado's team will take soil samples
from approximately 300 locations on the 7.5-acre site, based on
preliminary testing completed in 2006 and old site maps. Those preliminary
tests found concentrations of as much as 4 percent near some structures
on the site. Delgado expects to
get the results from these samples in about 21 days. The EPA will use
the findings to determine where they need to conduct activity-based
sampling. Results from those tests, which will be used to determine the
extent and method of remediation, will be several more weeks in coming.
Still, it's encouraging to see progress. The property has sat vacant
for more than a year, since the last of the art-silo tenants were booted in the spring of 2006.
Owner James Lifshutz plans to build urban living and retail spaces
overlooking the restored Eagleland segment of the San Antonio River
Improvement Project, but the development has been on hold since
community activists began pushing for testing and cleanup in 2005.
You can follow the EPA's updates on the official Big Tex cleanup site, epaosc.net/bigtex.