For more than a decade, the Tarrant Regional Water District has spent upwards of $43 million to remove toxic chemicals from two dozen properties in Fort Worth’s industrial north side.
Now, only two sites remain between the district and its goal to complete the “largest single voluntary cleanup program in the state of Texas,” according to Woody Frossard, the water district’s environmental director.
The effort to remove more than 300,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and treat more than 44 million gallons of water was spurred by the Panther Island/Central City flood control project.
Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can build a 1.5-mile bypass channel to reroute part of the Trinity River, the surrounding area must meet state environmental standards. From there, Fort Worth will relocate a major sanitary sewer line and clear the way for further construction of the channel under three Panther Island bridges.
Congress authorized federal funding for digging the channel in 2016, but has not sent the money to Fort Worth in the years since. The project would return flood protection to more than 2,400 acres inhabited by Fort Worth residents, according to a city press release.
Frossard wouldn’t name the location of the two remaining properties, citing the need to conduct proper testing before declaring a site contaminated. But he’s optimistic that cleanup crews will finish during the next fiscal year, which starts in October.
“Once I get these two properties remediated, I am completely through with environmental remediation for the bypass channel,” Frossard said. “There will be no additional environmental restrictions to keep the Corps from starting construction as soon as they get funding.”
Due to its history of housing a petroleum refinery, two metal refineries and a metal reclamation facility, Fort Worth’s northern section required significant cleanups to address decades of contamination. Water district officials began identifying those sites in 2004, with remediation work starting in the mid-2000s, Frossard said.
Earlier this month, the water district announced the completion of its cleanup at Fort Worth’s former police and fire training center and an adjacent property on Calvert Street. For decades, trainees shot lead bullets at the firing range and practiced putting out fires using aqueous film forming foam, a popular fire suppressant containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS.
PFAS chemicals, which are found in many consumer products, are known as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent and accumulate in people’s bodies rather than breaking down, said Dr. Katherine Pelch, a professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth who studies PFAS and public health.
Frossard said the most difficult chemicals to remove are those toxic to humans, especially with the amount of lead found at the former training center, which sits near the Charles. H. Haws Athletic Center.
“For all the years of shooting, they’ve shot shotguns, rifles and pistols so there was obviously a lot of spent lead there,” he said. “We had to have a special crew come in that had to be suited up so that they could actually get in there and collect all of the lead material … That was the very first thing that had to be done: the lead contamination had to be removed and contained.”
Two concrete towers at the center are still awaiting demolition, and Frossard plans to request funding for that project at the water district’s next board meeting.
Although cleanups have officially been completed at 26 of 28 properties identified by the water district, the process of earning certificates of completion from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality could take several extra months. The water district has received 21 certificates so far, Frossard said.
Frossard has been with the water district for the entirety of the cleanup process, and is proud to have seen the district clean north Fort Worth so that it’s safe for residential development.
“We cleaned up everything to residential standards, which means you can build houses on it, kids can play in the dirt,” he said. “There’s less restrictive state standards out there, like commercial or industrial, that would limit our ability to use the property for any other purpose. The highest standard is residential, and we have cleaned it up to the highest standard.”