The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality confirmed last week that additional contamination at a North Pit in the Ballard Pits hazardous waste site has been discovered.

According to discussions with TCEQ, the financial impact to decontaminate the additional pit of hazardous waste is unknown at this time. During previous excavation and disposal activities of the Ballard Pits site, TCEQ and its contractors discovered that the volume of waste was greater than originally indicated by a prior assessment, which increased the estimated costs for cleanup.

A 63,000-square-foot portion of the Ballard Pits, which is located in a rural area off of County Road 73, consisting of 296 acres of property, was found in 2003 to pose "an unacceptable risk to human health," after samples taken by the Railroad Commission during a site assessment showed numerous hydrocarbon compounds, including benzene.

Nearly $4 million had been set aside for the project, but it was discovered in May that the amount of contaminated soil in the West Pit was nearly four times greater than previously estimated.

As a result, the project was suspended after the money budgeted by the TCEQ for the project ran out in late August, leaving the East Pit untouched due to a lack of funding, TCEQ officials said.

The West Pit has since been cleaned out and backfilled with clean soil. Nearly 7,000 tons of hazardous and 8,300 tons of non-hazardous waste materials was removed from the West Pit and transported to an approved waste disposal facility.

Removal and disposal activities are ongoing at the Ballard Pits East Pit, located in the Callalen area, through funds Herrero and State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa secured in the Supplemental and 2010-11 Appropriations Act estimated at $11-13 million.

"We continue to urge additional testing throughout the site and at nearby properties to protect the families and drinking water in close proximity to the hazardous materials. Our efforts are not complete until we confirm the area is rid of contamination and potential health risks," District 34 State Rep. Able Herrero said Friday.

The state budget allocates $2 million specifically dedicated to Nueces County for the Ballard Pits. An additional $9 million to $11 million will be available for the TCEQ to use on the project, though it is not specifically labeled for Nueces County, according to information from the office of District 34 State Rep. Abel Herrero.

TCEQ officials said to date, no groundwater impacts from contaminants of concern attributable to the site have been observed in residential water wells surrounding the Ballard Pits.

The site will continue to be monitored throughout the duration of the cleanup to ensure residents' safety, TCEQ officials have said.