Port Arthur plant had largest wastewater spill in Texas after Harvey
Nov. 21--A wastewater facility operated by one of the largest chemical product producers in North America is responsible for the single biggest wastewater spill during Hurricane Harvey, releasing more than 100 million gallons in Jefferson County, state records show.
But the release at the Port Arthur facility run by BASF TOTAL Petrochemicals did not harm the environment, company spokesman Bob Nelson said in a written statement.
"Our process water systems were not compromised -- no process chemicals in the water," Nelson said in an email. "The release was mostly rainfall, and some flood waters."
The Port Arthur facility -- a joint venture between chemical giant BASF and TOTAL Petrochemicals -- is one of more than 200 in the areas impacted by Harvey that were responsible for about 149 million gallons of raw sewage and industrial discharges pouring into neighboring communities and waterways in the aftermath of the storm, according to state records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
About half of those facilities are located in Harris County, where they spilled 22.9 million gallons, records show. The spills are self-reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, officials said.
Gypsum Pile in Pasadena, for example, accounted for 18 million gallons of Harris County's spill tally. Previously known as FKP Gypsum Pile, the facility sits along the Houston Ship Channel where an inactive gypsum storage pile "associated with historical fertilizer manufacturing" is managed, according to the site permit.
Nearly 20 facilities in Fort Bend County reported releases of about 9.5.4 million gallons of spilled sewage or industrial discharge. Almost all of that -- 9.5 million -- spilled from the City of Katy Wastewater Treatment Plant at 25839 Interstate 10.
Those numbers, however, likely are incomplete. TCEQ records show that 225 of the 839 spills reported -- many of which were located in Harris County -- as of Nov. 2 did not have a release amount associated with their spill report.
The spills add to a problem already plaguing counties decimated by the hurricane: contaminated floodwater, which can contain infectious organisms and intestinal bacteria.
Three wastewater facilities are considered inoperable by TCEQ more than two months after one of the worst storms in U.S. history slammed into the Houston area. Fourteen others are operating with issues as of Nov. 3.
The BASF TOTAL facility in Port Arthur produces cancer-causing Butadiene, used in rubber and plastic production; Ethylene, used for anti-freeze, polyester and pharmaceuticals; and Propylene, used for plastics and adhesives.
But Nelson said those harmful chemicals were not present in the 106 million gallons that poured out of the wastewater facility on site starting Aug. 28, three days after Harvey came ashore near Rockport in South Texas.
On that day, TCEQ data shows that drainage ditches backed up, causing wastewater, storm water and floodwaters to intermingle.
"The 106 million gallons was rainwater that overflowed the site ditches and flowed off the site," into areas where it wasn't supposed to be, Nelson said.
The excess water drained into Sabine Lake, which is about a mile from the facility. The BASF TOTAL site sustained minimal damage, he said.
The spill was not BASF's only problem during the hurricane. The company also had issues at its Beaumont pesticide plant, where tanks overflowed and released "trace amounts of non-hazardous process chemicals in the discharge water," Nelson said.
This happened despite the company's attempts to reduce the wastewater on site prior to the storm by transporting it off site, he said.
"Despite these efforts, due to unprecedented rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey, wastewater overflowed tankage and then overflowed the tank containment area," Nelson said.
Further testing showed that "air emissions from this waste water overflow did not exceed reportable quantities," Nelson said, so the spill was deemed non-reportable.
Nearly 20 other wastewater facilities in Jefferson County reported spilling about 167,000 gallons of sewage and process water, including Sasol Chemicals in Winnie, TCEQ documents show.
Sasol reported spilling 50,000 gallons of sewage into the Mayhaw Bayou on Aug. 29, when storm water overloaded the sumps, containments and holding tanks, according to the state.
The Winnie facility produces products used to manufacture antioxidants, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fragrance chemicals, according to the company's website.
Facility officials could not be reached for comment.
It didn't take long after Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 for the Gypsum Pile facility in Pasadena to feel the storm's wrath.
That same day, process water from the facility began spilling as the site was pummeled by feet of rain. By the time the rains stopped, it had been inundated with up to 34.5 million gallons of rainwater, TCEQ records show.
Though the facility treats waste from a site that manages the inactive gypsum pile, facility officials reported to TCEQ that the 18-million-gallon spill posed no threat to humans or the environment. Officials assumed some diluted, untreated water from the site, along with rainwater, entered the Harris County ditch and the Houston Ship Channel.
The facility is operated by WLSK-Pasadena and the contact person listed on its permit, James Keigher, could not reached for comment.
About 100 other facilities in Harris County reported spilling about 22.9 million gallons of sewage and process water during the storm.
In Fort Bend County, The Katy spill came from the facility's wet well and two manholes. The control room also was flooded, records indicate, and all affected areas had to be disinfected with lime.
Water from the facility flows into Buffalo Bayou and then the San Jacinto River Basin.
Officials with the city of Katy, which operates the facility, could not be reached for comment.