13 October 2017
Superfund site that leaked in Hurricane Harvey will be cleaned up.
EPA approves plan to remove San Jacinto Waste pits from river
<p>Superfund site that leaked in Hurricane Harvey will be cleaned up</p><p>By Lise Olsen Updated 9:08 pm, Wednesday, October 11, 2017</p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p>Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff</p><p>IMAGE 1 OF 18 The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site sits under floodwater as members of the Army National Guard travel to Beaumont in Chinook helicopters to deliver hay to cattle stranded by Tropical Storm Harvey ... more</p><p>The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday approved a plan to permanently remove tons of toxics from the San Jacinto Waste Pits - a Superfund site that was heavily flooded and began to leak cancer-causing dioxin into the river after Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>The plan, which comes after years of litigation and citizen activism that built public support for permanently removing the pits from the San Jacinto River, includes installing cofferdams to prevent release of the pollutants before excavating and removing an estimated 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material.</p><p>The decision comes only two weeks after the EPA confirmed that a concrete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak during Harvey's floods. An EPA dive team found dioxin in sediment near the pit in a concentration of more than 70,000 nanograms of dioxin per kilogram of soil - more than 2,300 times the EPA standard for clean-up.</p><p>The extent of damage caused by that release remains unknown. But flooding of the Superfund site prompted the EPA's Scott Pruitt to visit the area and move up a decision on the proposed clean-up plan that had been pending for about a year. The estimated cost is $115 million, the EPA announced.</p><p>Hundreds of families in riverfront neighborhoods east of Houston fear that massive flooding has poisoned their land and fouled their wells with sewage, industrial pollution and toxic sediment from the region's most notorious Superfund site - the San Jacinto Waste pits. (Drone video taken by: Greg Moss)</p><p>Media: Houston Chronicle</p><p>Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan says finding that dioxin was exposed at the waste pits during the flooding was frightening proof that the EPA needed to act.</p><p>"And let's be clear: What we had from Hurricane Harvey was a rain event. Had the storm hit closer to Harris County, we would have experienced high winds and storm surge."</p><p>Jackie Young, an organizer and grass-roots activist who has spent six years fighting for clean-up, described the decision as an "enormous victory and we are sincerely appreciative that the EPA has chosen the only option that is protective of public health and the environment."</p><p>It appears though that rather than a final solution, the plan will only unleash additional litigation from at least one of three companies that are responsible for the clean-up. A spokesman for McGinnes Industrial Maintenance announced Wednesday that company will oppose removal.</p><p>"We cannot support a plan for the site that provides less protection to all affected communities than the existing cap already has provided," the company said. "We are deeply concerned that the decision announced today could result in a release to the San Jacinto River and downstream areas. We disagree with EPA's claim that the local or downstream areas can be protected during removal."</p><p>The dangers of the San Jacinto Waste Pits site, along the Interstate 10 bridge in east Harris County, were first recognized by local authorities in 2005 after the site flooded in Hurricane Ike. The pits were then added to the EPA's National Priority List in 2008.</p><p>In 2011, the site was capped with a concrete barrier. Yet over the years, dioxin has leaked out from the pits, county officials and researchers say. </p><p>Signs posted in the area warn people not to eat fish or crabs caught near the pits - which are near popular fishing holes and public parks in Channelview, Baytown and along the road that leads to the Lynchburg ferry. Research by the University of Houston's Hanadi Rifai found hotspots of dioxin linked to paper mill waste have traveled down the river and into Galveston Bay.</p><p>The pits already have provoked a series of civil lawsuits from area residents, fishermen and Harris County officials who fear that both the environment and area neighborhoods already have been poisoned. One pending case involves 600 area residents who live or owned property along the river in Baytown, Channelview, and Highlands. </p><p>Though the pits were originally on the riverbanks, over time the river has flooded the site numerous times. The pits were entirely submerged by a fast-moving wall of floodwater in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>An unusual alliance of Houston area congressmen, Harris County officials and citizen groups had all united to urge the EPA to approve a plan to permanently remove of toxics from the site.</p><p>In one report issued about the dangers of the pits, Samuel Brody of Texas A & M University called the site a "loaded gun" with the potential to damage the entire Galveston Bay ecosystem.</p><p>The Harris County attorney's office said the EPA's decision will require the companies that deposited the waste to remove it at the companies' cost.</p><p>The approved plan would remove an estimated 152,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with dioxin at the I-10 bridge. An additional 50,000 cubic yards will be removed south of the bridge and all those materials will be deposited "into a secure, stable, inland permitted facility," according to a county press release.</p>
Keep reading... Show less