Mercury Storage Meeting Held in Andrews County

By Camaron Abundes   
NewsWest 9

ANDREWS- The national scope and toxic topic helped draw a crowd at the James Roberts Center in Andrews on Thursday. Supporters and opponents voiced concerns and congratulations over the Department of Energy's decision to put Waste Control Specialists (WCS) on its short list of possible storage sites for elemental mercury.

"I am certain we're going to stop the mercury from coming here," Adam Greenwood, President of Save the Ogallala, said.

The Mercury Export Ban of 2008 passed by Congress requires the Department of Energy (DOE) identify a site for long-term mercury management. Andrews is one of eight locations vying for the 40-year government contract.

"I am sure that if we're selected and if we decide to do this, it would be good for both WCS and the DOE," Tom Jones, Vice President of Community Affairs for WCS, said. During the public comment portion of the meeting, WCS CEO Bill Linquist said the company must first learn more about the environmental study before committing to the project.

Levenstein said wherever it's eventually stored the waste will safely housed above ground in a warehouse type setting.

"It has multiple safeguards to assure that it will not leave the building. We are very comfortable that this is something that would never leave the building," Levenstein said.

The DOE didn't delve into the politics of the site but did say it will judge each of the eight sites on merits like safety and location.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, some residents and environmentalists raised questions about the sites suitability including the potential for sink holes and the link between mercury and autism. Tom "Smitty" Smith questioned Levenstein about the financial safeguards needed to ensure the site remains safe longer than the 40 year contract.

"This is really an educational format tonight." Tom Jones said nothing will be decided for some time.

Mercury is used in light bulbs, transistors, and is a byproduct in gold mining.

"If we have to take care of our own Texas/New Mexico waste fine but let's not be the dumping ground of the Nation," Adam Greenwood said.

WCS recently filed a lawsuit against Greenwood in order to recover damages resulting from alleged false and disparaging public statements made by Greenwood. Greenwood defends his statements.

"They've been dangling dollar signs but you'll notice that once the people of Andrews found out that WCS was actually wanting them to give them money, a $75 million dollar loan, all of the opposition we have seen started up. I think that's because people are starting to realize that WCS will take the profits and the people of Andrews will be stuck with the waste," Greenwood told Newswest 9.

Land owners like Bob Gibson worry about the risk for human error at the storage facility.

"No, not a thing that they can say because there is too much risk. The technicians can come up with the best theories they want to and the best made plans, but it will still be a man that will mess up on it somewhere sometime," Gibson explained.

The Department of Energy will complete an environmental study for public review sometime this fall. The final decision is expected in the Fall of 2010.