Volatile Chemicals Identified at Abandoned Oil Drum Site

Volatile Chemicals Identified at Abandoned Oil Drum Site

ECTOR COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Environmental Protection Agency officials released more information about chemicals detected at an abandoned oil drum operation at Marco Avenue and Market Street.

Thousands of steel and plastic containers at the site have been leaking toxins into the ground, contaminating water wells and creating significant fire hazards, NewsWest 9 previously reported.

Approximately 15,000 drums were left on the 4.5-acre plot of land after a company that operated under the names "Ector Drum" and "Lone Star Drum" went out of business in 2011, according to Bill Rhotenberry, a federal on-scene coordinator with the EPA.

"We're seeing some BTEX chemicals [at the site]," he told NewsWest 9. "Those are volatile chemicals that are commonly found in crude oil and oil field chemicals."

"BTEX" chemicals include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. Prolonged exposure to the chemicals has been linked to brain damage, increased risk of cancer and groundwater contamination.

"They can be an inhalation hazard, but at the concentrations we have here, they do not pose a threat to anyone outside the facility," Rhotenberry said.

The exact concentration of each chemical detected at the site has not been determined yet.

According to the EPA, fire hazards are the most pressing concern at the abandoned drum recycling operation.

"The main threat out here has always been if it were to catch fire," Rhotenberry said. "BTEX chemicals will exacerbate a fire and make it a lot harder to put out."

He previously told NewsWest 9 at least five fires broke out at the site when the drum recycling business was still in operation.

Company records list the owner of 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.

Beard could not be reached for comment.

EPA crews began the "emergency" clean-up effort on August 11 and said they plan to finish the by late November.