It's a winter afternoon in San Antonio (which is to say it's 82 degrees and blindlingly sunny). The light glints off the windowpanes of the restored King William mansions across the river, and makes it difficult to look square on at the EPA contractors in their white suits and yellow booties. Eric Delgado, EPA on-scene coordinator for the Big Tex Libby site, is mercifully dressed in a blue EPA Emergency Response Team shirt.
The word "emergency" reads ironic in this context: local residents
have been waiting for more than three years
for some agency, any agency, to fully screen the site for the presence of Libby asbestos, a pernicious form of tremolite asbestos whose tiny fibers have sickened hundreds of residents of Libby, Montana
, where contaminated vermiculite was mined by W.R. Grace for decades and shipped to more than 200 processing facilities throughout the country, including Big Tex. Libby was added to the National Priorities List of the Superfund program in 2002.
Between now and next Tuesday, Delgado's team will take soil samples from approximately 300 locations on the 7.5-acre site, based on preliminary testing completed in 2006 and old site maps
. Those preliminary tests found concentrations of as much as 4 percent near some structures on the site. Delgado expects to get the results from these samples in about 21 days. The EPA will use the findings to determine where they need to conduct activity-based sampling. Results from those tests, which will be used to determine the extent and method of remediation, will be several more weeks in coming.
Still, it's encouraging to see progress. The property has sat vacant for more than a year, since the last of the art-silo tenants were booted in the spring of 2006
. Owner James Lifshutz plans to build urban living and retail spaces overlooking the restored Eagleland segment of the San Antonio River Improvement Project, but the development has been on hold since community activists began pushing for testing and cleanup in 2005.
You can follow the EPA's updates on the official Big Tex cleanup site, epaosc.net/bigtex