“What I don’t understand is why Texas always has to take care of everybody else’s crap,” says Kenny Ahlrich, a cotton and milo farmer in Robstown, Texas. We’re riding his pickup truck along the perimeter of his property, which happens to be right next to U.S. Ecology, a hazardous waste treatment and disposal plant.
A known rabbler-rouser in Corpus Christi, Carolyn Moon, had written an email to a group of activists about her visit a few days before: “I was out there for a half an hour and started to cough. A big black cloud of particulate matter puffed into the air while I was watching, and black smoke was coming out of the processing building. Virginia Ahlrich called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s 800 number, but it didn’t sound like they were interested, and they didn’t give her an incident number.”
As U.S. Ecology undergoes a permit modification with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the public is wondering just how many incidents there have to be before a toxic waste processing facility becomes a danger to the public. The dump has been there since 1973. The Ahlriches started farming there at the end of that decade. The tap water is undrinkable, and Kenny has been treated for heavy metal poisoning multiple times.
The facility has had multiple incidents, only some of which have gone recorded. Huge plumes of dirt from the facility have flown up and been dispersed for years. And in this part of the Texas, the wind can really blow.
As we ride around the property, Kenny Ahlrich shows me pictures of dirt falling from dump trucks that passed by his property years ago.
We drive by a large, damp spot, caused by uncontrolled drainage from the site. The farmer who plows that land had to go around it. Growing cotton in toxic soil doesn’t sound particularly appealing to him.
As US Ecology undergoes a permit modification, citizens in the area have become increasingly aware of the problems associated with the facility, and are turning out for hearings and passing the word along to their neighbors. When it comes to protecting public health, they’re not going to leave it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to do the right thing.