EPA Investigates Chemical Found in Fort Worth Wastewater

Haltom City company focus of criminal probe by EPA

By Scott Gordon
|  Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014  |  Updated 10:38 AM CDT
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Investigators with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency searched the Billmark Company in the 2200 block of Solana Street in Haltom City for violations of the Clean Water Act, according to a search warrant.

Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News

Investigators with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency searched the Billmark Company in the 2200 block of Solana Street in Haltom City for violations of the Clean Water Act, according to a search warrant.

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Federal agents raided a Haltom City company as part of a criminal investigation into the discharge of the toxic chemical cadmium into Fort Worth’s wastewater.

Investigators with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency searched the Billmark Company in the 2200 block of Solana Street in Haltom City for violations of the Clean Water Act, according to a search warrant.

The raid was in January, but court documents detailing the investigation were just publicly released.

The water supply of Fort Worth was never compromised but the discovery of cadmium was troubling because high levels of the chemical are hard to treat and can eventually end up in public water supplies, said Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza.

“It’s not what anyone wants to think about, but in reality, yes, there is no new water on Earth,” she said. “Water is continually recycled.”

Billmark has been in business more than 30 years and works with plating and metal finishing, according to its website.

Owner Mark Shafer told NBC 5 he and his company have done nothing wrong and treat the wastewater before it is discharged into the sewer system. But he declined further comment on the advice of his attorney.

According to the EPA’s search warrant, workers at the City of Fort Worth’s Village Creek water  treatment plant began noticing “higher than expected” levels of cadmium in 2009 and began an investigation to see where it was coming from.

“We know the consistency of our sludge at the wastewater plant and we know the normal levels of various contaminants in it,” Gugliuzza said.

The city traced the cadmium to Billmark, the warrant claimed, and closed-circuit cameras inserted into the water lines found an “unaccounted for ‘suspect’ sewer outfall” originating in one of three buildings operated by the company.

The warrant also claimed the company has a history of problems dating to the 1980s, when inspectors found Billmark was “bypassing their in-house wastewater treatment system by running a hose from a wastewater storage tank directly into a toilet drain” that discharged directly into the main sewer line.

According to the warrant, Shafer claimed the extra line was from a house that was there more than 40 years ago, but an EPA agent said he could find no records that a house ever existed on the property.

Billmark does have a permit to treat wastewater, but cadmium is supposed to be removed before it enters the underground sewer, the warrant said.

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