While it appears that the cleanup of the Big Tex industrial site will be finished by its initial goal date of Christmas 2008, the crews working have found more asbestos than first thought. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to remove the asbestos from an industrial site along the San Antonio River. Dubbed Big Tex for the grain company logo on the side of one of the buildings, the 7.5-acre site is expected to be redeveloped once the asbestos found in the soil is removed. James Lifshutz, the site owner, has plans to create a multi-use site similar to the Blue Star Arts Complex, also near San Antonio. The first round of tests on the soil found asbestos in only 26 of the 50-by-50 foot grids of soil and two of the site buildings contaminated with asbestos, but another batch of tests discovered an additional 19 of the 50-by-50 foot grids contained asbestos.
EPA workers do not anticipate that the additional asbestos found will cause any delays in the cleanup efforts. Many wondered how the site became so severely contaminated with asbestos. From 1961 until 1989, the industrial site at Big Tex processed over 100,000 tons of vermiculite ore from W.R. Grace’s Libby, Montana, mine. This mine has been the source of controversy since the 1990s, when it was discovered that the vermiculite ore from Libby contained high levels of tremolite, or amphibole asbestos. This is one of the most toxic forms of asbestos and has a greater negative impact on the body and an increased risk for asbestos-related diseases than other forms. Company memos inside Grace revealed that the vermiculite was still sent to processing sites despite knowledge that the ore included the most dangerous type of asbestos. As the EPA works at the site, they have taken several precautions to protect the safety of those living and working nearby, including those in the historic King William neighborhood, just across the San Antonio River. Air quality tests have ensured that dust from the site has not gone into the air. No contamination of the surrounding environment is anticipated before the site cleanup finishes, due to the strict measures taken by the EPA cleanup crews.