Twitter user Jo WeB shared what Steel Dynamics has been up to with me on Twitter, and it’s pretty horrific. I saw Jo’s tweet to Elon Musk and was immediately intrigued. Upon asking for more information, Jo shared three documents with me that tell the story of how Steel Dynamics is polluting the waters of Texas with a mix of metals and even e.coli.
The following is a long read, but here’s a shortened version. Steel Dynamics is constructing a steel mill in south Texas and wants to dump industrial wastewater into the river system there. This wastewater will include toxins such as e.coli.
Although it filed for a permit, the company began the construction of a wastewater treatment plant before the permit was even granted. Not only is this illegal, but it’s hazardous. Jo shared three documents with me, including the letter that started the investigation into the illegal waste treatment system, the cease and desist document, and a report by Bryan French, an environmental attorney who is representing The Aransas Project (TAP). TAP is fighting for the watershed.
Please encourage Steel Dynamics to use deep water injection for their wastewater disposal instead of dumping it into a creek that feeds a wildlife refuge. Thank you!
— Jo WeB (@JoWeB4) January 21, 2021
Cease & Desist
Steel Dynamics received a cease and desist order on November 3, 2020, on behalf of The Aransas Project. Following that, an investigation regarding the construction of a wastewater treatment plant was initiated before it got a discharge permit.
The plant, known as the Sinton Mill Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), was investigated on November 19 to determine compliance. The facility itself, Sinton Mill, is planned to be an iron and steel manufacturing and coil coating facility.
The final construction is slated to be finished by the spring of this year. Texas Water Code restricts the construction of a wastewater treatment facility until an active water quality discharge permit is issued — this is required by the facility if treated process water or domestic wastewater is intended to be released into freshwater.
On January 4, 2021, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) informed representatives of Steel Dynamics to immediately cease any construction on the WWTP. You can read that full document here.
The Letter That Started The Investigation
What led to the investigation was a letter from Errol Summerlin of Portland, Texas, who was concerned about the Proposed Water Quality Permit (Number WQ0005283000) that was issued to Steel Dynamics. Summerlin, a member of the Coastal Alliance to Protect our Environment (CAPE), was concerned about the environmental impact on the bays and estuaries that support a diverse array of species.
Summerlin noted that the facility proposed discharging 1.56 million gallons of industrial wastewater daily and an unknown amount of process and equipment stormwater runoff into Chiltipin Creek, “thence to the confluence of the Aransas River Tidal, Segment 2003, thence to Segment 2472.” Summerlin pointed out that there are discharges from treated domestic wastewater flowing into the Segment, but this will be the first discharge of industrial wastewater into the watershed.
Segment 2472 is designated for recreational contact, oyster waters, and aquatic life and is very important to the wildlife habitat, fisheries, and nurseries. “The Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve was created for a reason. The protection of this delicate system is of utmost importance and any introduction of metals and other contaminants into the system must be stringently scrutinized,” wrote Summerlin.
Several concerned citizens reviewed the permit application, and the fact that the contaminants that are in the industrial wastewater are undisclosed or difficult to ascertain is worrisome. “The discharges of metals and other contaminants in unknown quantities, combined with stormwater runoff from ferrous metals threaten the environmental integrity of Chiltipin Creek, Aransas tidal, and Copano/Mission/Port Bay. What we unleash today can have undetermined consequences on the system,” Summerlin wrote.
He also listed 10 comments on the matter.
I’ve condensed these down (somewhat), but you can read the full letter here.
- Steel Dynamics hasn’t provided a stormwater flow diagram that would detail the design and path of the stormwater runoff to Chiltipin Creek.
- It hasn’t provided information on the amount of impervious surface within its 2,800-acre facility. This is important because the amount of impervious surface will have a “dramatic effect on the amount of stormwater runoff to each Outfall and the amount and degree of contaminants that will flow unrestricted into Chiltipin Creek.”
- The Endangered Species Act review by USFWS and the EPA should have been included in the application for the permit. Also, a TCEQ analysis of the ESA review should have been conducted before the issuance of a draft permit. The general public should have been allowed the opportunity to comment on any findings in an ESA review and the issuance of the permit should be delayed until both the USFWS and EPA review of the ESA is finished and the public has an opportunity to share their thoughts.
- The draft permit failed to address or even acknowledge the potential harm to the habitat of many endangered and threatened species that are listed by the State of Texas.
- Analysis of the bioaccumulation of the metal and chemical discharge in aquatic life (crabs, oysters) needs more analysis.
- The draft permit should not be allowed to release any hexachlorobenzene or tetrachlorobenzene at all. There are limitations on these, but this doesn’t mean that the TCEQ can’t be more restrictive.
- Steel Dynamics admitted that e.coli bacteria will be present in the discharge — so it’s releasing dangerous bacteria into the creek which will expose cattle, domestic, and wildlife that drink from the creak. It will also expose the bay waters and the Aransas Tidal.
- The draft permit says it complies with the Texas Coastal Management Plan, but the TCEQ staff only confirmed this by seeing if the applicant checked the appropriate boxes. Onsite visits need to be conducted.
- Steel Dynamics plans to store enormous amounts of scrap metal, which will result in the elements and runoff from those piles being allowed to flow into the creek. There need to be safeguards to prevent runoff into groundwater and into the creek. Also, there needs to be further analysis on the type and how much of these metals will flow in the waters from these stockpiles.
- Steel Dynamics withheld critical information from the public’s view and claimed proprietary confidentiality. The public should be allowed to inspect all of the aspects of the permit application. The metal compounds are not disclosed and these compounds are created through the processes. “These unknown metal compounds should be disclosed to allow public scrutiny of their impacts on the receiving waters.”
Bryan French’s Report: Steel Mill Threatens Pristine Fishery And Environmental Gem on the Texas Coast Or … Danger Lurks Upstream
The last file that was emailed to me is a paper by Brian French, the environmental attorney who is representing The Aransas Project. In his report, French paints a vivid scene of shimmering waters and a trip back in time, highlighted with the abundance of wildlife — an idyllic scene that is now in jeopardy. The bay, Copano Bay, is considered an essential shrimp nursery, and although off-limits to shrimping, is an important commercial oystering bay.
“Egrets, herons, shorebirds of all types, as well as songbirds, Caracara and Ospreys roost in the lush vegetation along the banks and bluffs, under which soft shell turtles and alligators of all sizes loll in the sun.” — Brian French
French continued to weave the story and you can feel his love for the area in his words. He penned that this gem of a coastal area escaped the environmental problems associated with the heavy industry’s coastal development. Although this industry provides jobs, he mused, it can also “alter magnificent horizons and pose threats to human health and the environment upon which many Texans depend.”
The new threat, which isn’t visible from Copano Bay, is the massive rolling steel mill that is under construction 21 miles away near Sinton, Texas. In the following excerpt, French shares the dilemma.
“As part of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s rules, the plant’s operators, Steel Dynamics, LLC must obtain a water discharge permit. This permit would allow for over 1.5 million gallons of treated industrial wastewater per day to be dumped into the pristine waters of Chiltipin Creek, to flow into the Aransas River, and ultimately into Copano Bay and into the neighboring bay systems. What is in the wastewater still remains unclear, but many of the chemicals to be used in the steelmaking process before treatment are toxic to a lot of aquatic, and marine life, as well as to mammals, birds, and in some cases humans.”
French points out that the potential for discharges of both known and unknown pollutants in the unspoiled waters of the creek, river, and the bays is what makes this permit so frightening. French also stated that The Aransas Project (TAP), which is an organization dedicating to maintaining freshwater inflows in the system, questions the wisdom of such a permit. TAP will be contesting the permit by requesting the TCEQ to conduct public meetings on the permit and submit comments on behalf of its many individuals and member organizations that opposed the proposed discharge. TAP will also request stringent protective measures to protect the watershed’s citizens and natural resources.
You can read French’s full report here.