ECTOR COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Thousands of abandoned oil drums at Marco Avenue and Market Street are leaking chemicals into the ground, contaminating water wells and creating significant fire hazards, Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
Approximately 15,000 steel and plastic containers were left on a 4.5-acre plot of land after a drum recycling company went out of business in 2011, according to Bill Rhotenberry, a federal on-scene coordinator with the EPA.
He is leading an emergency clean-up effort at the site that began on August 11 and is expected to continue "probably into November."
"Some [drums] are empty, but many have mixtures of different chemicals," Rhotenberry said. "Most of the drums are unlabeled, so we don't know what the contents are. Our task is to test the materials, find out what they are, find the best way to dispose of them and then dispose of the drums themselves."
He and a crew of 12 workers have already organized and labeled approximately 13,000 of the 15,000 drums.
Preliminary categorization consists of grouping the drums by content, Rhotenberry explained.
Workers can generally determine through basic field analysis and pH testing whether chemicals in the drums are flammable, caustic or neutral, he said.
"It was really bad when we first got out here," Rhotenberry told NewsWest 9. "There's also a water well on-site that's been impacted... It has over a foot of what we call 'free-phase hydrocarbons' on top of the water in the well."
The on-site well and other water sources believed to be contaminated are used "primarily for irrigation," he added.
A "significant amount of soil contamination" has also been linked to the leaking drums, according to the EPA.
Specific chemicals involved in the leak have yet to be positively identified, Rhotenberry said, but are known to create fire hazards.
"We've got businesses that are right up to the fence of this site," he told NewsWest 9. "And there [are] some new residential areas that are within a quarter mile of the site. [These drums] could have some impacts if we have [leakages] and there's also a significant fire threat."
According to Rhotenberry, at least five fires broke out at the site when the drum recycling business was still in operation.
Company records list the owner of the business, Ector Drum, as Odessa resident Randy Beard.
Rhotenberry told NewsWest 9 the owner was "never authorized" to store a number of hazardous chemicals found in the abandoned drums.