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County files radioactive lawsuit

Materials in contact with oilfield dump contained radium

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Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 5:00 pm

A lawsuit has been filed against a local business accusing the company and two people of illegally dumping solid and liquid radioactive waste in Ector County.

Javelina Environmental Services LLC, Enrique A. Villanueva and Tomas Contreras were named in the lawsuit filed by county contracted attorney Daniel Ray, who files civil lawsuits for the county on environmental enforcement issues.

According to the petition filed in a Travis County district court, the company dumped radioactive waste in an illegal landfill on a piece of land in the 1800 block of North Knox Avenue.

Oil filters, a 55-gallon drum, a 95-gallon overpack, a fiberglass tub, tarps and liquids were all found in the landfill, according to the petition, and were found to contain radium and other radioactive materials.

“Exposure to radium can cause cancer and other disorders because radium — and its decay product radon — emit alpha particles upon their decay, which kill and mutate cells,” according to the petition. “Radium exposure famously caused skin ulcerations on scientist Marie Curie, and is blamed for her premature death.”

Javelina Environmental Services LLC is a subcontractor for an oil company tasked with properly disposing of the materials, according to the petition, for which an oil company paid more than $10,000.

According to the petition, the disposal was not accidental, as the company attempted to take the material to a junk yard. The material was rejected, though.

Environmental enforcement officer Ted Yelley questioned an employee about the dumping, according to the petition, and the person said the employees “just got busy and forgot about them.”

The oil company did not appear to know about the illegal dumping, according to the petition.

Ray said the oil filters were probably the actual source of the radiation, but Texas statutes prohibit lawsuits against oil companies and products of oil exploration.

Because of that, Ray said the lawsuits focus on the other materials that were contaminated by the radiation.

“It’s extremely toxic in a way that other toxic things that we looked at are not. This type of poison lasts effectively forever,” Ray said. “You don’t even have to touch what it is or breathe anything in for it to affect you.”

Radium is one of the only naturally occurring sources of radiation that is dangerous and can kill a person, Ray said.

Ray said he didn’t expect to be filing lawsuits regarding radioactive material, but he’s also hoping to get information on the company’s other jobs to make sure it hasn’t happened before.

Although it wasn’t included in the lawsuit filing, the company even lied about the dumping, producing false manifest records to prove they were innocent, Ray said. When Yelley pointed out the date on the manifest was May 21, 2013, a day which hadn’t even occurred at the time of this story, the employees admitted it was fake.

As of press time, the lawsuit had not been served to the company or its owners, Ray said.

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