Brio Refining, Inc. abandoned refinery Superfund site

Inside fence line, facing west, looking up road/drainage pathway at the Brio Refining site. Source: EPA.Inside fence line, facing west, looking up road/drainage pathway at the Brio Refining site. Source: EPA.

Brio Refining, Inc., abandoned refinery near Friendswood, Harris County, Texas was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 31 1989. The NPL is a list of national priorities among the known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories.

The NPL is part of the Superfund program, the common name for the United States environmental policy officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), enacted by the United States Congress on December 11, 1980 in response to the Love Canal and Times Beach disasters. Superfund law was created to protect people, families, communities and others from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites that have been abandoned. Many of the contaminants at Superfund sites are also regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).


Brio Refining, Inc. is an abandoned refinery located at 2501 Dixie Farm Road, Harris County, approximately 1.5 north of the town of Friendswood and 20 miles southeast of Houston, Texas. The site consists of 12 closed pits within 58.1 acres of land divided into two parcels by Dixie Farm Road, 49 acre Brio North and 9 acre Brio South. Tanks and processing facilities remain on a portion of the site. The site is surrounded by developed and undeveloped mixed-land use properties that include residential units and the San Jacinto Community College. At the start of the clean-up there were approximately 3,600 people living within the 2000 census tract surrounding the site. The areas also contain approximately 28 water wells (both potable and non-potable) within a one-mile radius of the site.

The facility was operated from 1957 to December 1982. All of the pits were closed during site operations which ceased in December 1982 after the firm went bankrupt. Between 1957 and 1969, major industrial operations included regeneration of copper catalysts, recovery of petrochemicals from styrene tars and recovery of chemicals from vinyl chloride still bottoms. Reclamation of petrochemicals from various chemical feedstocks also occurred at Brio. Between 1969 and 1971, spent caustics were stored in tanks. Hydrogen sulfide was blended with exhausted caustic to produce cresylic acid, sodium sulfide and sodium crystallite. In 1978, the recovery plant was converted to a crude oil topping unit for jet fuel production. Refined products were produced by crude oil distillation. However, no cracking or reforming of feedstocks took place. A succession of earlier operations occurred at the site which included oil blending, refining and hydrocarbon cracking; former operators included Hard Lowe Chemical, Lowe Chemical, Phoenix Chemical, JOC Oil Aromatics, and Friendswood Refining.  

Between 1975 and 1978 the following materials were used as feedstock: styrene tar, ethylbenzene, phenol bottom, cutter stock, caustic, crude oil, blend oil, polyethylbenzene bottoms and crankcase oil diesel that did not meet specifications


Contaminants were in the form of debris, groundwater, liquid waste, sludge, soil, surface water. Spills entered the nearby Mud Gulley flood control ditch and subsequently to the wider region via Clear Creek, Galveston, Texas.

 NOAA.Aeration ponds at Brio. Source: NOAA.An inspection by the EPA indicated that shallow ground water was contaminated with copper, vinyl chloride, fluorine, styrene and ethylbenzene. In January 1984, the EPA detected toluene, benzene, and other aromatic organic chemicals in the air. Principal Pollutants were identified as styrene tars, vinyl chloride, chlorinated solvent residues, metallic catalyst and fuel oil residues. The actual contaminant concentrations found on the site were compared to the exposure from a concentration known to have an adverse impact. It was determined that the site potentially posed four major risks to human health and the environment.

  • Direct (dermal) contact and ingestion of contaminated surface soils and sediments on the site.
  • Inhalation of contaminated dust and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from the site.
  • Ingestion of contaminated groundwater from the fifty-foot sand zone (FFS) beneath the site.
  • Exposure of aquatic biota to NSCZ discharges of contaminated groundwater to Mud Gully.


Remedial Action 

The EPA has conducted a second five-year review of the remedial actions implemented at the Brio Refinery Superfund Site (Site) near Friendswood, Texas. This second five-year review of the site covers the period from September 1998 to May 2003. All construction activities were completed at the site in 2004. Consequently, the site was deleted from the NPL in December 2006.

Remedial action included:

  • Treatment of affected materials and soils using either incineration or biological treatment.
  • Removal of tank contents, decontaminate tanks and transport the tanks to an EPA approved off-site disposal facility.
  • Monitoring and control exposure pathways through ambient air, surface water, and groundwater, particularly discharges to Mud Gully.
  • Installing a sub-grade vertical barrier wall enclosing the site.
  • Capping the site with a cover system consisting of compacted clay, liner, and gas collection system.
  • Constructing a groundwater flow control system to manage the migration of contaminants within the containment system.
  • Improvement to Mud Gully to ensure flow capabilities within the drainage system.

Approximately 100,000 gallons of contaminated sludges and solids were removed from the site. More than 25 million gallons of ground water were treated and approximately 38,000 gallons of dense non-aqueous petroleum liquids (DNAPL) were removed from the site. More than 84,000 gallons of DNAPL were removed from underneath the former storage pits.

Direct benefits of action


  • Installation of the subsurface barrier wall and the groundwater control system will ensure that contaminated groundwater is contained underneath the site and will not discharge into surface water.
  • The multi-layer cover system over the site reduces the risk from direct contact with the residual wastes at the site.



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