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LEAD-IN BY HOST SEHBA SARWAR: A local nuclear manufacturing company abandoned radioactive materials at their previous facilities after declaring bankruptcy. The EPA has stepped in to clean up the hazardous sites, which they claim do not now pose a danger to the public. But the facility was once classified as dangerous. David Stiles and Brandon Moeller report:

STORY: The Environmental Protection Agency has been called in to clean up a radioactive mess left by a local materials manufacturing company that abandoned shop at two different locations after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the year 2000.

The company, Gulf Nuclear of Louisiana Inc, is owned by the GNI Group. Texas regulatory agencies were unable to force Gulf Nuclear or its parent company to clean up the contamination. Gulf Nuclear manufactured devices and materials used in the oil industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the Texas oil boom. Later, they provided devices for the medical industry.

The Texas Bureau of Radiation Control asked Gulf Nuclear to submit a plan to decontaminate their City of Webster site after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1992. Gulf Nuclear has never submitted a decontamination plan for their facility located in the Webster medical district. Ruban Cortez of the [Texas] Bureau of Radiation Control:

Stiles: When did you know that they abandoned the site? Did they tell you?
Cortez:No, In 1992, they changed companies and they filed for restructure bankruptcy and at that point they were supposed to start a decommissioning of the site. They were supposed to issue a decommissioning plan, so they were supposed to be cleaning up, so eight years later, they pretty much just folded and filed for complete bankruptcy.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency has to decontaminate the facility. The cleanup will cost the EPA an estimated $8.5 million dollars, unless the EPA is able to make the responsible parties pay up. Most of the federal money allocated to the project is for Gulf Nuclear's Webster site.

The 8.5 million dollars will come from the national Superfund account that is set up to handle national emergencies dealing with radioactive contamination.

This is not the first time the EPA has had to step in and clean up after the now-bankrupt Gulf Nuclear company. This time last year the EPA finished removing contaminated materials from a Gulf Nuclear site in Odessa [that was discovered in 1993].

The EPA and the Texas Bureau of Radiation Control claim that the abandoned buildings at the Gulf Nuclear sites do not currently pose a threat to the surrounding communities. Last year, The Bureau of Radiation Control ordered Gulf Nuclear to build fencing around the facility based on a year 2000 inspection. Ruban Cortez:

"Assuming that they were going to do the right thing and do the clean up properly, it's what they were supposed to be doing for the last eight years. And then, from what I'm hearing from the EPA, this place is in worse condition than previously thought."

The Webster site was not secure until the EPA took control of the site in January of this year. The EPA has told KPFT News that the Webster site is no longer a danger [and that the EPA does not plan on proposing this site to the national priorities list, a list comprised of dangerous and necessary clean-up sites]. David Barry of the EPA:

"The EPA has within its response mechanism ... authority to use Superfund monies for these short term responses when it is determined when there is potential threat to human health and the environment ... There's a potential for a release of radiological material at the site. That was our initial finding Because of that, the scenario as it existed at the time presented what we termed an Imminent and Substantial endangerment to public health and the environment Because of that, we were allowed to use Superfund to initiate a cleanup ... which we have done."

The EPA has said it is hopeful all work at the Webster Gulf Nuclear site will be completed by the end of the year. The EPA says that it will attempt to recover the cost of the cleanup from all responsible parties. When the EPA will do this is unclear.

David Stiles and Brandon Moeller, KPFT News, Houston.

[Brackets denote content that was edited out of the original broadcast accidentally.]

E-mail David Stiles & Brandon Moeller at Stiles138@yahoo.com & brandonmoeller@hotmail.com respectively .

This story was broadcast on August 15, 2002.