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Port digs up railcar in Galveston
09:18 AM CDT on Friday, March 28, 2008
By Laura Elder / The Daily News
GALVESTON — Maybe they buried the railroad tank car to skirt pesky environmental laws.
Or maybe some company that long ago did business at the port simply needed an underground storage tank.
Port of Galveston officials may never know who buried an entire railroad tank car filled with thousands of gallons of liquid, including a degraded form of the pesticide DDT. But they’re leaning toward the storage tank theory.
“Maybe the carriage was damaged, and they needed a storage tank,” said Port Director Steve Cernak. “They disconnected the carriage from the tank and decided to reuse an asset.”
Cernak and other port staffers looked on early Thursday afternoon as crews used a crane and chains to resurrect the railcar — about 40 feet long and 10 feet in diameter — that workers nearly two months ago found when they were removing track to install a storm drain for a parking lot just west of Cruise Terminal No. 2, north of Harborside Drive near Pier 27.
Whatever the motive, the consequences will be costly for the port.
“Lucky me,” said Cernak, who estimated the port would spend about $55,000 to remove the car and dispose of its contents.
Initial samples taken by the port’s environmental consultants detected DDE, a breakdown product of DDT. The federal government banned DDT in the 1970s. It was blamed for devastating wildlife, particularly birds, and probably causes cancer in humans. Tests also detected the pesticide Endosulfan, a neurotoxin. Ingestion of even small amounts of Endosulfan has been linked to seizures and death.
Port officials speculate that the pesticides could have been used to fight pests at Grain Elevator B, which the port and various private companies managed from 1930 to the late 1990s. The port demolished the grain elevator in 2003 to make way for cruise-ship operations.
The port had planned to pump out the contents of the tank, fill it with slurry and pave over it. State officials were fine with that plan, but said the port first would have to test the soil beneath the tank. If the port were going to have to remove the tank, it didn’t plan to bury it again, officials said.
Port environmental consultants on Thursday took samples of the soil beneath the tank, which they’ll later study. There were no obvious leaks nor visible markings on the tank car, which was covered with dirt and, as best as anyone could surmise, was made in the 1920s.
That doesn’t say anything about when it was buried, however. The Port of Galveston, once controlled by private interests, became an public enterprise in 1940. There is no institutional memory of anyone burying the car since that time, said Bernie Curran, director of administration at the port.
Since the baffling discovery, rumors have spread across the city about other possible buried tank cars. Some speculate that there are at least five such cars buried on the port’s 850 acres.
Port officials don’t intend to go looking for them, Cernak said.
“Am I supposed to dig up every square inch? How deep and at what cost?” Cernak said. “We will deal with them as we encounter them.”
Crews hoisted the tank onto a flatbed truck, which will take it to an authorized disposal facility.
Taken from the March 28, 2008 Edition of Galveston County's The Daily News