In the February issue of the “print product,” Laray Polk wrote a story about Harold Simmons and one of his companies, Waste Control Specialists (WCS). The story is titled “Dallas’ Evil Genius,” referring to the clever way in which Simmons has figured out how to get the federal government to pay him to clean up his own mess using WCS. I received a letter in response to the story from the CEO of WCS, William Lindquist. As you might imagine, he didn’t like the story. After the jump, you’ll find his letter, with rebuttals from Laray in blue:
From: William J. Lindquist
Chief Executive Officer
Waste Control Specialists LLC
To: Tim Rogers
It is apparent from your February 2010 article on Harold Simmons and Waste Control Specialists (WCS), titled Evil Genius, that D Magazine has no interest in providing an unbiased or accurate depiction of Harold Simmons, the man, and the disposal operations at WCS’ site in Andrews County, Texas.
[LP: The D Magazine article is an investigative report. Many people were interviewed and the issues considered from many angles. Harold Simmons, one of several people mentioned in the article, is depicted as a person of complexity. The same is true for NL Industries and WCS. If we entertain the recent SCOTUS ruling that corporations are people, it is fair to conclude, that if people are fallible and complex, then so too are business entities. The nature of WCS’ services–involving PCBs, a broad spectrum of radioactive waste, and possibly 13,000-15,000 metric tons of mercury–should be expected to arouse a great amount of public scrutiny. Certainly more so than if we were discussing a donut factory.
To write accurately and truthfully is a task requiring work and thoughtful examination. To write otherwise is to engage in a type of tautology centered around positive PR that is not meant to be questioned, but rather accepted uncritically as fact or as unexamined flattery. It is clear what type of article D Magazine chose to publish: an investigative report.]
Characterizing as “evil”Â a well-known philanthropist like Mr. Simmons who has contributed more than $450 million to mostly Dallas-based charities is deplorable especially for a magazine that purportedly promotes Dallas and its charitable events.
[LP: Paragraph 1 of the story opens with Simmons’ charitable giving, with a word count of 76. Paragraph 6 begins with “Simmons has been generous with his wealth,” with a word count of 54. This would work out to a total of 130 words on the topic of Simmons’ philanthropy whereas only 85 words were devoted to Luis Sepulveda’s contributions appearing in paragraph 20. If one were to read the on-line version, paragraph 6 is featured as a pull-out quote, doubling the word count and appearing in a larger font for greater emphasis.]
Every characterization regarding the geology and alleged groundwater issues associated with the WCS site in Andrews County is either false or represents a reckless distortion of the facts. The site is the ideal location for disposing of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW)–its arid climate and unique geologic formation make it perfectly qualified. More than 18 years of extensive geologic testing and review–not to mention a century of oil and gas exploration in the area–makes this one of the most studied, analyzed and researched geologic formations in the country. Without any factual or scientific basis, your author makes numerous assertions and conclusions that are simply inaccurate.
[LP: Without specific examples on what is being characterized as errant, it is not possible to respond.]
The attacks contained in the article on the community of Andrews aren’t just wrong, they are mean-spirited and inaccurate. The citizens of Andrews County have a 20-year investment in making WCS a success and fully support WCS’Â business of providing a solution to a very real and growing problem facing our state and nation. LLRW is currently being stored at universities and hospitals all across Texas, including Dallas, with limited safeguards in comparison to the alternative that the WCS site will provide.
[LP: Without specific quotes to substantiate the conclusion that the article contains mean-spirited or inaccurate attacks on the community of Andrews, a response is not possible.]
A long term solution for the storage and disposal of LLRW is a critical national need and the WCS facility provides the safest solution to address this need. The strongest attribute of the site’s location in Andrews County is that–in fact–it does not sit atop or adjacent to any underground drinking water supply. The near-surface disposal facilities which will include a state of the art liner system will be constructed atop several hundred feet of nearly impermeable red bed clays which are ten times less permeable than concrete.
[LP: There is agreement with the first part of the first sentence. We are in a critical situation with over sixty years of accumulated radioactive waste from atomic exploration combined with a much smaller, daily accrual of waste generated by hospitals, research facilities and nuclear reactors.
The statement that the strongest attribute of the site is that “it does not sit atop or adjacent to any underground drinking water supply” is misleading. It sits atop the Dockum, a minor aquifer. In matters of radioactive material, any water is a potential pathway. The travel of radionuclides is not determined by potable or non-potable distinctions. Bradley and Kalaswad have written extensively about “The Dockum Aquifer in West Texas.” They write that the “poor water quality, low yields, and declining water levels have generallyÂ discouraged its use except locally,” though “the Dockum aquifer canÂ be an important source of groundwater forÂ irrigation, public supply, oil-field activity, livestock and manufacturing purposes.”]
This past year, WCS was proud to play a part in the final disposition of waste generated from ore mined in the former Belgian Congo which was used as part of the Manhattan Project. The ore was initially processed and shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where it was enriched into weapons grade uranium. 80% of this uranium was used to make the first nuclear weapon, detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, which helped end World War II. The tailings from the Belgian Congo ore contained wastes that were shipped to Fernald, Ohio, beginning in 1951, where it was stored for more than 50 years until it was safely disposed at the WCS site. The former Fernald, Ohio storage site has been returned for use by the community as a park.
[LP: The park referred to is the Eco Park, located within the DOE Legacy Management site. There is much to be said about the park from local residents. People I spoke with said they only allow their children “to ride their bicycles on the sidewalks there and never allow them to take off their shoes, sit on the ground or touch anything.”
In addition to the park, the 1,050-acre site has a visitor’s center and teaching facility that houses archives. The person who was interviewed and quoted in the article is the DOE Legacy Management site manager for the Fernald Preserve.
She described the waste as from the Cold War-era. An identical description is contained in a WCS Status Report from September 2009. In reference to the byproducts disposal, the report states, “With the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) approval, WCS contracted to store Cold War-era radioactive waste from Fernald, Ohio in 2005.” This is in contradiction to what is written above as it is generally accepted that the Cold War-era began after the Manhattan Project. The National Archives defines the Cold War-era as occurring “from the end of World War II through the dissolution of the Soviet Union into the Commonwealth of Independent States.”
It is clear that a definitive answer on this matter has not been established. The foremost authority on the forensics of the Fernald site is Dr. Arjun Makhijani. I did speak to him in reference to the percentage of uranium content in the Belgium Congo ore, but did not have a discussion on the history of the residues in Silos 1 and 2. He stays very busy with research and publishing though he is generous with his time in answering questions along these lines.
I think the intent of the discussion of the Fernald waste and the inaccuracy of local media reports is clear. It is owed to readers that news reporting handle subjects with some degree of specificity and independent analysis.]
All of this information was shared with the author, but you wouldn’t know it from her article.
[LP: The interview with WCS spokesperson Chuck McDonald did not include a discussion of the Fernald waste beyond asking for a verification of the weight of the canisters as reported in local media. The first part of the interview consisted of a review of numbers and dates (e.g. confirmation of the acreage of the site, disposal dates); the remainder was devoted to a discussion of aquifers, the revised TWDB maps, and the underground disposal system WCS has installed to “pump moisture out.”]
Following are just a few of the key facts about the WCS site geology that she failed to mention or just got wrong:
- â–ª More than 18 years of local geologic and hydrologic investigations at the WCS site show there are no shallow aquifers. None of the Ogallala, Trinity-Edwards [sic] or the Pecos River aquifers is present at the disposal site. The only aquifers are contained within the nearly impermeable red bed clays, almost 400 feet below the bottom of the site.
[LP: Issues regarding the aquifers are discussed in the article at great length with sources amply noted.]
- â–ª The finest hydrological experts in the county have determined that the first almost 400 feet of the red bed clays is dry and vertical movement of any potential water is not possible. Water in the Trujillo aquifer, which is trapped 400 feet below the landfill between two zones of red bed clays, resulted from a lateral flow of water during the last Ice Age more than 16,000 years ago. WCS’ extensive drilling and testing, which was reviewed for 5 years by state regulators, confirmed there is no water in the clays themselves and water, including the Trujillo aquifer, does not move vertically at the WCS site. Put simply, no contamination of this aquifer from the WCS site is possible.
- â–ª WCS has drilled almost 500 boreholes to characterize the subsurface geology and hydrologic conditions. This unprecedented level of characterization provides and accurate portrayal of local conditions that is not possible with broader, less-focused regional tests and reports.
[LP: Drill logs from the RCRA Investigation (Exhibit 5-1 A) reported moisture throughout the WCS site. Core from the majority of logs was described as moist. There is also a report obtainable through the TCEQ (Interoffice Memorandum, Jan. 26, 2009, WCS Site Visit report) that contains a detailed description of when groundwater was “unexpectedly” encountered during the excavation of the byproduct landfill. The same report contains pictures that show standing groundwater, and soil stratum that have portions that are moist.
As for a discussion of the Trujillo Aquifer, more information would be needed. I am not aware of the naming convention that is being used or how it was arrived at. In the interview with McDonald, he mentioned the Trujillo Formation. (Formation, according to USGS convention, is used to denote a geologic unit that has the potential to bear water.) He described the the Trujillo Formation as 500-600 ft. below the surface. He had earlier said that the Dockum Aquifer was located 500 ft. below the site.
The information in this response letter states that the Trujillo Aquifer is “trapped 400 feet below the landfill.”Â It could be assumed what is being called the Trujillo Aquifer or Trujillo Formation is being used interchangeably and may relate to the Dockum Aquifer, but even then, the depths are not consistent. In addition, both the singular and plural form of aquifer is used in this letter. It is unclear how many aquifers WCS believes are on-site. Clarification is needed in order to understand what is being conveyed.]
The article contains many other grossly inaccurate statements that are too numerous to list; however, I hope you will use the information ignored or misrepresented by the author to correct some of the most significant inaccuracies of your article in your next publication. Please contact me if you would care to have your readers see a correct article on WCS and the community of Andrews, Texas.
William L. Lindquist
Chief Executive Officer
Waste Control Specialists LLC