THEA held a Press Conference to Solicit Corporate Accommodation of the EPA’s Request to Include Local Stakeholders in the Waste Pits remedial design process.
Houston, TX – October 12, 2020 – As part of the continued effort to remediate the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site, we are requesting that the responsible parties include local stakeholders such as the Port of Houston Authority and Harris County in the Waste Pits remedial design process. On Monday, October 12th at we will hold a press conference via Zoom to discuss how the inclusion of local stakeholders in the design process will expedite the project timeline and ensure that the health and safety of the local community remain central to all decisions made.
The Waste Pits Superfund Site is the result of paper mill waste that was disposed of along the San Jacinto River in the 1960s. The Waste Pits presented such a threat to the environment and to public health that they were listed for clean-up under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Federal Superfund program in 2008. Currently, remediation of the Waste Pits is in the design phase. The design process, however, is being deliberated by a “technical working group” (TWG) composed of members of the responsible parties, their contractors, and the EPA. The TWG meets regularly to develop proceeding steps of the remediation plan. When a milestone is achieved, the TWG then allows local stakeholders (Harris County technical review team and the Port of Houston Authority) to review the plan and provide commentary. This commentary is then passed through the EPA and back to the TWG for consideration.
This arrangement is cumbersome and time-consuming. It can take several weeks–or even months–for local leaders to dissect the plans, to provide commentary, and to see their commentary reflected in a revised plan. If local leaders were permitted a seat at the table during the TWG meetings, we could cut months–if not years–off of the remediation project timeline.
Our local leaders are not asking for more authority in the Superfund design process. They are simply asking for the ability to provide feedback while plans are being developed, not afterward. This would streamline the design process and allow remediation to move forward more quickly. It would also allow us to ensure that the interests of the community are represented and prioritized in all decisions made. Our leaders are looking out for the interests of our local community for generations to come, so it is critical that we allow their voices to be heard.
What is at Stake?
We know that dioxin is extremely toxic and that it can hold its toxicity for upwards of 750 years. We know it is present in extremely large quantities in the Waste Pits. And we know that rates of cancer in children are elevated in the communities surrounding the Waste Pits. We must stop wasting time debating facts and instead direct our time and energy toward a solution. By including the Port of Houston Authority and Harris County in the TWG meetings, we can expedite progress toward that solution, and we can ensure that there is integrity behind that progress.
The EPA has already requested that these local stakeholders be included in the TWG meetings. Responsible parties have rejected this request. We are calling on them to reconsider this decision. And we are calling on the public to sign our community letter in support of this request. Please to join the fight for safe and timely remediation of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
The Texas Health and Environment Alliance’s mission is to protect water resources and public health from the harmful effects of toxic waste. We endeavor to establish an informed and engaged public movement to restore and protect environmental resources from toxic contamination.
About the San Jacinto Waste Pits/Coalition
For many years, the Waste Pits along the San Jacinto River were a hidden crisis posing great danger to nearby communities. The abandoned, dioxin-filled pits tainted local seafood and the river for decades. In 2015 the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed elevated rates of cancer in children and people of all ages living near the Pits. THEA’s San Jacinto River Coalition, which is a community-led group working to educate the public about the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site, was successful at urging the EPA to fully remediate the site.
On October 11, 2017, the EPA signed a Record of Decision for remediation of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. In addition to installing energizing controls like a cofferdam, the plan includes directives for the removal of dioxin-contaminated material from the Waste Pits. The approval of this plan and the preceding remedial design agreement to remove the site’s toxic sludge allowed the San Jacinto River Waste Pits to be dropped from the Federal Government’s “Emphasis List” of Superfunds sites. Unfortunately, recent details found in the contractor’s reports, as well as the recent adjustment of the remediation timeline to 7 years, has impacted progress. Getting this project done correctly and with expedience is of critical importance. Delays or poorly executed work will pose public health and environmental consequences in surrounding communities for generations to come.