Andrews Eyed as Prime Candidate for Mercury Disposal

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

ANDREWS COUNTY - Andrews County is on the short list of places being considered for the storage of mercury. On Tuesday night, the Department of Energy (DOE) held a public hearing to give people a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns. As NewsWest 9 found out, the idea is getting a mixed reaction.

We're talking about 11,000 tons of mercury. The Department of Energy has narrowed in on Waste Control Specialists (WCS) based on their experience with low level radioactive waste. They told NewsWest 9, because of climate and transportation capabilities, West Texas is an ideal spot.

"A global environmental concern - the spread of mercury which is a toxic element into the environment. Instead, it would be located here in a very safe configuration," Bill Levitan, Director of the Environmental Management Program, said.

A dangerous material that may find it's way to West Texas soil. On Tuesday night, the DOE wanted to explain how they plan to store mercury while keeping Andrews neighbors safe.

"We've analyzed the environmental impacts and found that they would be fairly minimal if we were to site such a facility at this location," Levitan said.

WCS says if they're chosen, they'll store the mercury inside special containers in a storage facility on a seven acre site.

"If you think about something the size of a propane tank for your barbeque grill - if that was full of mercury it would weigh a little over a ton," Tom Jones with Waste Control Specialists, said. "It's a lot of pounds, it's not a lot of physical space."

The facility would have a 40 year life span but environmental authorities are hoping that during the next 5 years, new technology will provide an even better storage solution.

"The health effects are only if you breathe it, contact it," Jones said. "It's sealed up in containers that are designed to store it. There's no impact at all."

But for some,  the health risks to Andrews' community are generating big concerns.

"We're bringing in all this stuff, nobody knows," Melodye Pryor, who's against mercury storage, said. "There's been studies elsewhere. Nobody wants it in their backyard, so they're bringing it to West Texas that's supposed to be sparsely populated. Who cares about us? Somebody has to care about us."

The mercury storage plan is still in the preliminary stages. At this point, the Department of Energy will review the questions and concerns from everyone in those seven communities across the U.S. then make a decision on where all that mercury should go.