By Elicia Sanchez
This year marks my 20th anniversary with Waste Control Specialists. When I started with WCS in May 2000, it was still a startup company.
We took in our first shipment in 1997; the majority of all our shipments were hazardous materials for disposal. We had just one landfill and could store and treat hazardous and low level radioactive waste, but not dispose of LLRW. I was born and raised in the Texas panhandle in Amarillo, so I came to this job with the pride in our state that most Texans can relate to.
The staff at WCS share that pride in this rich region, as most of them live here in Andrews and eastern New Mexico. We have all worked hard over the years to add capabilities to this facility. Why? Because we are providing a solution to the needs of our state and our country. If WCS were not in operation, a disposal option for LLRW would not exist for hospitals, universities, power plants, and other facilities in Texas and around the country.
WCS takes in the waste from normal, everyday businesses that benefit all Texans from every part of the state – whether for critical services like cancer treatment and medical breakthroughs, energy, or through providing jobs.
We are also a critical pillar for our region’s oil and gas industry. Oil and gas production generates Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) through naturally occurring radioisotopes. This naturally occurring and background material is found everywhere, but once disturbed and consolidated like in the oil and gas production process, can increase risks of exposure unless properly handled, contained and disposed of at facilities like WCS. Without the proper disposal facilities, oil and gas production in this region would be negatively impacted with high transportation costs and disposal at facilities much further away.
All of the vital businesses mentioned create waste, and that waste would and will continue to exist whether WCS is here or not, but without us, it could be stranded, unsecured, and potentially unaccounted for over several years. I am extremely proud of our dedicated employees, some of whom have been with WCS as long or longer than I have.
We take pride in our company and in what we do. It shows: We have maintained a stellar safety record over the years that I have worked at WCS that is much better than most industrial facilities. We have also maintained an extremely sound and safe environmental and radiation protection program. Somehow, though, those accomplishments seem to get lost or overlooked in the public conversation. I and my coworkers have faced and continue to face personal and professional attacks and harassment about the work that we do at WCS. We have faced accusations of greed, with claims that we are performing this important work simply to make more and more money.
I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn’t continue to tolerate that criticism and withstand those confrontations simply to make a dollar. We employees are regular people. We are like the other citizens of Andrews, Eunice, Hobbs, and other towns in a region that is known for its work ethic – we all go to work each day believing that we make a difference in people’s lives. At WCS, we all truly try to make the world a better place by safely disposing of the waste that is a very necessary component of our lives – that comes from products and processes that improve all of our lives. It is our job and our duty to ensure that it is done in the safest possible way – not only because we are required to by law and regulation, but more importantly because we live here and our families live here.
We want to ensure that they are safe now and for years to come. One question we frequently get is why us? Why Andrews? The answer still comes down to safety. There are other facilities for LLRW disposal around the country – and all are subject to the same laws and regulations that ensure consistency and safety – but none of them have the unique advantage that we do that makes WCS the safest facility in the country: our geology and geography. Many people have seen the West Texas red clay around their homes and places of work; however, it is nothing like the exceptional Dockum red-bed clay formation beneath the ground at the WCS site. But more people around the country need to understand its characteristics.
This clay rock is virtually impermeable, so much so that it takes 1,000 years for water to travel through just four feet of it. This feature is our greatest environmental ally. We also have independent verification from the Texas Water Development Board that there is no drinking water anywhere under or around the site, so no contamination is possible. Rainfall is the only source of any standing water on our site, and the site slope prevents any runoff contamination – water would have to flow uphill.
These unique features are why our community leaders came together more than 20 years ago and welcomed WCS. We are now a 1,300-acre facility built atop 600 feet of this environmental defense. If the employees of WCS didn’t believe in what we are doing and the safety of it, we wouldn’t be here. I continue to work for Waste Control Specialists because I am proud to work with amazing people and provide a safe, environmentally sound solution to our state and nation, and more importantly, to You.
Elicia Sanchez is Senior Vice President at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews. Texas. She is a Business Administration graduate of Texas Tech University and a Certified Public Accountant.