A Texas Water Commission spokesman said Friday that initial soil testing appears to rule out environmental contamination at Mount Carmel.

But District Manager Larry Fergusson stressed that he had not read the test data.

“Someone from the lab testing the soil called and he said that he didn’t see anything alarming in a scan of the test results,” Fergusson said. “But I can’t definitely say until I’ve seen the test data.”

The Texas Department of Health quarantined Mount Carmel, the site 10 miles outside Waco that was home to the Branch Davidians, two weeks ago. Officials cited fears that waste contamination posed a threat of spreading communicable diseases such as Hepatitis A or cholera.

But TWC officials received good news from NDRC Labs in Richardson on Thursday concerning sewage testing.

“They found nothing indicating a hazardous condition exists out there,” Fergusson said.

“Everything they tested for was below detection with the exception of barium,” Fergusson said.

“That doesn’t worry us since the soil out there has a slight barium content,” Fergusson added.

The lab tested waste samples taken from a cistern where waste was stored, the cult’s swimming pool and tunnels beneath the compound.

Fergusson said the soil was tested to primarily determine the threat of mercury and lead poisoning.

He said much of the ammunition amassed by the Branch Davidians had primer coats made of mercury and contained lead.

Heavy metals in high amounts can be poisonous and damage the nervous system.

Even if final testing reveals no environmental hazards at Mount Carmel, contractors will be hired to remove sewage and garbage, Fergusson said.

In other news concerning the Branch Davidians, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. ruled Friday that authorities could continue to hold Renos Avraam, 31, in jail as a material witness.

Waco attorney Dick Kettler had asked that Avraam be transferred to a halfway house.

Avraam, a British citizen, has been held at McLennan County Jail since he fled the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.

Four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a Feb. 28 shootout with the Branch Davidians.

The federal agents were attempting to serve cult leader Vernon Howell with an arrest warrant for possession of automatic weapons.

Six cult members died in the gunbattle.

Avraam, who joined the Branch Davidians a year ago, was interviewed by the Texas Rangers on the day of the fire, then taken the next day before a federal grand jury in Waco.

He refused to fully cooperate with the grand jury, according to federal prosecutors, and was taken to jail.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.