Cleaning up the San Jacinto River toxic waste pits may now take three times as long as previously estimated, according to initial design documents.

The pits, which are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, contain dioxins, a group of chemicals known to cause cancer. The agency has been working on plans to remediate the site for years.

When the initial cleanup plan was released in 2017, it was estimated to take 27 months. Now, preliminary design documents show the waste extends deeper than previously thought — up to 25 feet in some areas.

That means about 218,000 cubic yards of toxic waste need to be removed, and the cleanup process is now expected to take seven years.

“As long as that waste is there, the risk to the environment and to public health is great,” said Jackie Young-Medcalf, executive director of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance.

The waste pits flooded during Hurricane Harvey, releasing chemicals into the river. Young-Medcalf said that she worries the longer the waste stays there, the greater chance it has of flooding again.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ a hurricane will strike our coast, it’s a matter of ‘when’,” she said. “Looking at a timeline for the clean-up of seven years versus two, means that’s five more hurricane seasons that this waste, to a certain extent, is going to be in the San Jacinto River.”

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