Thursday, February 6, 2003 by

More than a dozen experts from various government agencies and private-sector groups packed the Austin City Council work session Wednesday to tell Council members that preliminary studies show the water in the Barton Springs Pool poses no threat to human health. Experts from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas Department of Health (TDH), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the MD Anderson Cancer Center explained that while there had been traces of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) detected in the sediment at the pool, the chances of anyone experiencing negative health effects from swimming in the pool were virtually nil.

“The average US male daily exposure is about 3 micro-grams of PAHs per day,” said Dr. Cheryl Walker of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “Most of this is coming from the diet. If you eat a lot of grilled meat, this can contribute an additional 6 to 9 micrograms per day. If you’re smoking unfiltered cigarettes, this could contribute an additional 30 micrograms per day. If you just look at the calculated oral exposure from swimming in Barton Springs, the actual amount of PAHs that you would be exposed to is an additional .28 micrograms. This additional amount is infinitesimal compared to what we have on our plate daily.”

The low risk factor, other experts explained, was due to the lack of contact that most visitors to the pool would have with significant levels of sediment. “Recent data as well as historical data on the pool sediment tell us there is very, very, very little risk to swimmers in that pool,” said Dr. John Villanacci with the Texas Department of Health. “Scenarios involving dermal exposure to the sediment at Barton Springs Pool are probably non-starters.” Although the TCEQ does have scenarios for exposure to sediment, they almost all involve children in residential areas for prolonged periods of time. Those projections, Villanacci said, would not be applicable to visitors to Barton Springs who might ingest or come into contact with minute amounts of sediment while swimming.

As for the hillside above the springs, the experts concurred that more testing was necessary before taking any action. Several experts said the city’s theory about the source of chemicals in the soil there is plausible. Members of the city’s watershed protection staff believe that those chemicals come from an asphalt sealant commonly used on parking lots, which breaks down after two to three years and washes off. Experts quoted in the Austin American-Statesman believe the chemicals could be leftover from a coal-gasification power plant that functioned sometime between the 1880’s and 1920’s. But regardless of the source, experts at Wednesday’s meeting said the city should find out more about the site before taking any action. “You can’t remediate until you identify the source,” said Villanacci. “If you didn’t identify that and you cleaned out that whole drainage area, next year we’d be back here talking again. You have to have source control.”

City officials were happy with the results of the three-hour presentation. “The preliminary assessment today says that it is safe for swimmers in our pool,” City Manager Toby Futrell said. But Futrell is waiting for additional test results before reopening the facility. “We’re missing just a couple of samples…as soon as they sign off, we’ll have a free swimming party at the pool.” Futrell also avoided criticizing the American-Statesman, but did express regret that the trust of citizens in government may have been damaged by claims that the city suppressed information. “You can work very hard to gain trust, and one thing can destroy it,” Futrell said. While officials from the U.S. Geological Survey praised the city’s data reporting and collection program, Futrell promised to make it more accessible to the average citizen in the future. “It wasn’t in the kind of format the general public could access, see, and make their own determination . . . and we’re going to remedy that.”

Members of the SOS Alliance attended Wednesday work session to observe and seemed satisfied with most of the data presented. “My personal view is that the data that we have right now suggests that it is not dangerous,” said SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch. “But there has not been adequate attention yet to looking at all the different exposure pathways and all the pollutants, rather than one or two and really analyzing it.” Bunch stressed that while there may be no apparent danger to human health, there was still a danger to the Barton Springs Salamander. “The one barometer that’s in the water 24 hours a day 7 days a week and absorbing all the pollutants is the salamander,” Bunch said. “What it’s telling us is the system is sick . . . we have a lot more water monitoring compared to what other cities have, but it’s the sensitive aquatic species like the salamander that are measuring all of the pollution all of the time.”

Bunch also criticized the American-Statesman, saying, “I think their agenda, that is so obviously hostile to the city and the environmental community, has diminished and obscured the part (of their reporting) that is contributing to . . . bringing attention to the plight of the springs.”

Candidate to stress solving problems for small businesses

Urban Transportation Commission member Carl Tepper threw his hat into the ring yesterday to take over Will Wynn's seat on the City Council, but the news was overshadowed by the Council work session on the Barton Springs Pool.

A handful of supporters met Tepper outside The Tavern to discuss his platform, which concentrates on helping the city’s small businesses. Standing outside a marquee that announced: “The Tavern is closed. Save The Tavern,” Tepper stressed a platform that will support the continued health of local business owners.

The biggest problems facing Austin small businesses today are high property taxes due to rising property values and the stringent nature of Austin’s city codes, the Place 5 candidate said. That was The Tavern’s problem. The city’s code requirements made it both difficult to sell and costly to upgrade once the “grandfathered” business passed into the hands of the new owners, Tepper said.

“I can’t promise a property tax cut immediately, but I can promise we can streamline the permit process,” Tepper told his supporters. He went on to say that business owners making a good faith effort should be given a timeline and some latitude in meeting new city regulations. By working with businesses, the city will be able to grow and prosper during difficult economic downtimes.

Tepper will be running against Brewster McCracken, Margot Clarke and Robert Singleton. This will be Tepper’s first run for office.

Tepper, a 36-year-old Air Force veteran of Operation Desert Storm, is the director of property management for Hughes Capital Management. He is married and has lived in Austin for almost seven years. Tepper serves as chairman of the Capital Metro Customer Satisfaction Advisory Committee and has served on the Urban Transportation Commission for the past four years. He also sits on the local regulatory issues subcommittee of the Business Owners and Managers Association.

Tepper supports the concept of light rail, but said it’s obvious during the current economic crunch that business growth, rather than public transportation, is likely to be a city focus. The city is not in the position to underwrite a major capital improvement campaign, Tepper said. Maintaining the current level of city services—police, fire, EMS and parks—is a much higher priority right now. Tepper intends to outline many of his positions on issues on his website, www.carltepper.com.

The Place 5 candidate expects his base of support to come from real estate, business and transportation interests, as well as the city’s bicycling and public transportation community. A long-time Republican, Tepper joked he can still be “as creative, original or weird as the next Austinite.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas Tech University.

Thursday, Friday.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Emailer apologizes . . . Dominic Chavez of the Real Estate Council of Austin has apologized to the Mayor and City Council for an email in which he criticized Council members for considering a resolution opposing unilateral military action against Iraq. The email, which Chavez sent to a handful of people initially, was circulating through City Hall on Tuesday and given to In Fact Daily. In that epistle, Chavez said, “This is the kind of crap that we need to get after this Council about! . . . They need to get their heads screwed on straight.” Council Member Daryl Slusher, the original sponsor of the resolution, said last night that he had not yet seen the apology. “I don’t mind people who disagree with me. He can say whatever he wants. It’s America.” But he opined that it was “not too smart for a government relations person to be calling the Council a bunch of idiots.” Chavez’ email, Slusher concluded “is not going to affect how I decide policy.” As of last night, the Council member said he had received twice as many messages in support of the resolution as opposed. Council Members Raul Alvarez and Jackie Goodman are co-sponsoring the resolution. The resolution should come up about 3pm at today’s Council meeting . . . What the city is losing . . . The Austin Police Department has said good-bye to eight military officers and six more are awaiting orders. An additional 73 APD employees are members of military reserve units. Five sworn personnel in the Austin Fire Department are on active duty or awaiting orders, with a 45 more employees with military status. Six sworn paramedics are on active duty or awaiting orders. One additional reservist is in training to join Emergency Medical Services. The figures were provided to Slusher’s office by the City Manager . . . Meltzer weighs in on Waller Creek bond money . . . Brad Meltzer, who bills himself as “Austin’s business candidate for Mayor,” said he is opposed to transferring $25 million in taxpayer approved funds designated for the Waller Creek Tunnel to the Long Center . Members of the Long Center’s board of directors have been asking Council members to put the issue before the voters during the May election. Meltzer noted that Austinites voted for the bonds to safeguard downtown from flooding in Waller Creek. “The increasing cost of the Long Center is not due to unexpected cost overruns, but to voluntary expansion of the project beyond the capacity of private fundraising, especially during a depressed economy. The funding shortage is self-created,” he said in a press release. Meltzer told In Fact Daily he expects to make a formal announcement next week . . . Symphony to play at Crockett High School today . . . The Austin Symphony will play in Austin and Round Rock high school gymnasiums alongside student musicians starting at 9:30am today at Crockett High School. “Music you’ve heard but didn’t know was classical” is the theme for the symphony’s concert series. These concerts will reach over 10,000 students and faculty, hopefully sparking greater interest and involvement.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

‹ Return to Today's Headlines

  Read latest Whispers ›

Do you like this story?

There are so many important stories we don't get to write. As a nonprofit journalism source, every contributed dollar helps us provide you more coverage. Do your part by joining our subscribers in supporting our reporters' work.

Back to Top