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County files lawsuit against New Mexico company

By Nathan Miller, Odessa American

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Ector County accuses a New Mexico corporation with a West Odessa location of illegally dumping several chemicals into the ground, including mercury, nickel, lead and cadmium.

Additionally, the lawsuit states officials fear the chemicals could leak into the Ogallala Aquifer — one of the largest aquifers in the world.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Travis County, claims Nipco, Inc., and owner Dean Fields, had supervisors at the location at 2104 W. 42nd St., tell employees to dump the chemicals down a drain on the north side of the facility when the storage tank gets full. The location on West 42nd Street is reported as being a nickel plating shop.

Ector County hired independent contractor Springer Environmental to take soil samples at four and six inches below the surface in the area, with the results reported as finding cadmium, mercury, lead and nickel above the regulatory limits in the samples, the lawsuit stated.

In a letter to the environmental enforcement office, employees with Springer Environmental stated they believed the lead and nickel were coming from the “target area.”

Fields said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit, and added he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit until he had seen it. Fields did say he thinks he knows who might have come forward about accusations against the company.

“I’m sure it was accusations made by people who were recently fired,” Fields said.

Ector County Environmental Enforcement officers were notified about the company dumping into the alley at an unspecified time and talked to three different employees, all of whom worked with the company at the time of their interviews, the lawsuit states.

It was unknown if the employees were still working at the company as of Monday.

One of the witnesses told investigators they were instructed to empty their chemical vats into a drain that leads to an above-ground tank for storage, the lawsuit states. When the tank gets full, the employee was told they were to allow the chemicals to drain “directly onto the ground surface,” the lawsuit states.

The two other employees also stated they were to allow the chemicals run into the drainage system out the back of the business, the affidavit stated.

All three employees also reported suffering health problems due to a lack of personal protective equipment, the lawsuit stated.

The location of the facility sits adjacent to the Ogallala Aquifer, which is about 174,000 square miles and is located in parts of eight states, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming, the lawsuit states.

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“The availability of this water is critical to the economy of the region, as approximately 95 percent of groundwater pumped is used for irrigated agriculture,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states there are fears the chemicals could also make their way to the Dockum Aquifer, located in the northwestern part of Ector County, and even the Colorado River.

The lawsuit states the dumping violation has been going on for “several months,” and is asking for cleanup and a civil penalty to range no less than $50 and no more than $25,000 a day for each day of the violation.

Since the hiring of Daniel Ray in 2012 to file environmental lawsuits on behalf of the county, Ector County Judge Susan Redford said the lawsuits that have been filed have been beneficial to keeping the area clean and safe.

“It is important we remain proactive in perusing these incidents of illegal dumping to not just protect our ground water, but to also clean up the community,” Redford said.

On May 16, the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee for the Texas Legislature will meet to hear comments on the effectiveness of local government filing environmental lawsuits.

Rep. Tryon Lewis, who is on the committee, said the committee would be discussing how well the communication between local government, the Attorney General’s office, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality works when filing the suits.

Lewis said he is in favor of local control on the issue because they are more aware of what is going on in their area.

“I think the testimony will show there is a need for that local input and local involvement to respond to pollution problems,” he said.

CHEMICALS REPORTED IN SOIL:

  • Cadmium: A chemical element with the elemental symbol “Cd” and atomic number 48; Cadmium is a suspected human carcinogenic and is toxic to the kidneys, lungs and liver in which prolonged exposure can produce organ damage.
  • Mercury: A chemical element with the symbol “Hg” and atomic number 80; mercury is considered hazardous and toxic to blood, kidneys, liver, brain, nervous system and prolonged exposure can produce organ damage or death.
  • Lead: A chemical element with symbol “Pb” and atomic number 82; lead can be toxic to blood, kidneys and the central nervous system and can cause cancer.
  • Nickel: A chemical element with the symbol “Ni” and atomic number 28; nickel is a possible human carcinogen and can be toxic to skin, kidneys, lungs, liver and upper respiratory tract and can possibly cause organ damage.

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