Overview of the Jones Road Groundwater Plume Superfund Site (1:15)
The Jones Road Superfund Site is a contaminated groundwater plume underneath a shopping center in northwest Harris County. A dry-cleaning business that formerly operated out of one of the units in the shopping center dumped their waste outside for years, resulting in toxic chemicals seeping into the local environment and groundwater.
The toxins in the local environment and groundwater pose a threat to local public health because they can migrate upward and release into the ambient air as vapors.
The Site is currently in the remedial action phase of the Superfund process, meaning cleanup operations have been occurring and will continue for some time to come.
February Freeze Impacts (4:20)
The Freeze caused the vapor extraction system that removes toxins from the air and groundwater to shut down for a significant period of time. The deep zone was inoperable from February 19th to the 23rd, while the shallow zone was inoperable from February 19th until April 8th. This is cause for concern because vapors in the shallow zone are most likely to release into the air and come into contact with humans and animals in the area.
The pause in operation was due to damage to equipment and a pipe leak. The pipe leak occurred in the line that takes treated water back out into the environment. This means the water that may have escaped was already treated and no longer contaminated.
The EPA has yet to inform us what other equipment was damaged, but the fact that the freeze resulted in any damage at all has led us to inquire with the EPA what measures they are taking to further weatherproof this Site so that it is prepared to withstand future extreme weather events. They informed us that they will be looking into ways to prepare the Site for future events including hurricanes, floods, and extreme heat.
EPA Five Year Review (13:34)
In 2021, the Jones Road Groundwater Plume Superfund Site is up for its five-year review. This is an assessment conducted by the EPA in which they look at all possible exposure pathways and the measures that have been put in place to mitigate them, and they determine whether enough is being done to protect the environment and local public health, or if they need to adjust their course and do more.
This Site is orphaned, meaning there is no responsible party working with the EPA on the cleanup. The EPA is the only one working on it. As such, we as the local community must make sure to stay vigilant and hold the EPA accountable. We need to make sure we all thoroughly understand the possible exposure pathways at the Site and the options for effective, safe remediation so that when the agency releases its findings from the five-year review, we are prepared to provide comments and to educate our local representatives so they can provide comments as well.
Outdoor Air Quality (16:46)
The EPA depends on the state to determine what is considered a “safe” level of certain chemicals and toxins in the air. And in the state of Texas, the limit for what’s considered acceptable is higher than in many other states.
The EPA sampled air at the Jones Road Site from 2015 to 2018 looking at the levels of several toxic contaminants. The results did not prompt response because they technically fell below Texas’ limit for what’s acceptable. However, when we compared the results to the limits in other states, we found that the levels of several highly toxic contaminants detected at the Jones Road Site were significantly higher than what is considered safe in other states.
Indoor Air Quality (19:13)
The indoor air at the Jones Road shopping center was originally tested in 2015, and at that time, unsafe levels of several contaminants were detected, but no action was taken.
In 2017, the air was tested again, and the results showed a significant increase in the concentration of the contaminants. The contaminants were detected at between 144 and 269 micrograms per meter cubed when the limit for what’s considered safe is 41.
The EPA also tested vapors in the soil beneath the cement slab of the shopping center and found contaminants at over 4 million micrograms per meter cubed, which is astronomical.
These results prompted the EPA to install the vapor extraction system we currently see at the site. After installing the system, they retested the indoor air in three of the units in the shopping center and found the levels to be below the 41 micrograms per meter cubed limit. However, they did not retest the sub-slab zone.
We are pushing for the EPA to conduct additional sampling. It is a step in the right direction that they installed the vapor extraction system, but they have not done enough. It goes against the basic principles of sampling to stop sampling while the problem still exists. They need to resample the sub-slab zone, and the need to sample additional units in the shopping center. They have currently only sampled the first three and found alarming results–how do they know the fourth is any different? These are the types of questions we will be pushing during the five-year review.
The Jones Road Groundwater Plume Superfund Site was discovered as a result of the detection of contaminants in a groundwater well that supplied water to a local gymnastics school and childcare facility in the early 2000s. 18 employees, 90 children, and up to 200 gymnastics students were potentially exposed during this time. To get a better understanding of the way this site could be affecting our community’s health, we would love to get in contact with some of the people that were in the facility at this time. If you know anyone who may have been involved in this gymnastics school or childcare center, please urge them to contact us or take our health survey. This could be an important piece of the puzzle for understanding what is going at this site and how it is impacting local health.
A serious problem we are currently facing with the groundwater at this Site is the use of wells for drinking water supply. Back in 2002, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality tested over 40 of the wells in the area and found several of them to be contaminated with PCE. The well with the highest level of contamination had PCE at 128 parts per billion. The level at which this contaminant is considered a risk is five parts per billion. So this is a massive concern, and this was almost 20 years ago.
Yet still to this day, there are hundreds–even thousands–of groundwater wells operating in the area. The EPA has placed a restriction on drilling, but it is not enforced. Drilling companies continue to build new wells, and the EPA has not been in contact with local homeowners to inform them about the issue.
Stricter drilling restrictions and improved communication with local residents are two things we are going to push for heavily on the five-year review.
Community Health (32:25)
We host a health survey on our website which we use to get a deeper understanding of public health in the communities with which we work. In the Jones Road area, the survey results show quite a bit of leukemia, urinary cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, and auto-immune diseases. We’ve also seen a lot of Parkinson’s, a disease that is known to be linked to the types of chemicals present in the Jones Road Groundwater Plume.
A few years ago, a group of parents asked the state to look into rates of childhood leukemia because they felt the rates at their local elementary school were abnormal. The state looked at an area of seven census tracts that border the Superfund Site, and the results showed that between 2010 and 2016, rates of childhood leukemia were over two times higher than what’s expected for an average Texas community. This is cause for concern and inspired us at THEA to want to figure out what other types of cancer may be affecting the community at unusually high rates.
We have launched a health survey initiative so that we can get more information about the types of cancer that are plaguing our communities. It’s so important to hear from as many people as possible on our survey. We need to compile a list of the types of cancers in the community so that we can ask the Department of State Health Services to look into rates for those cancer types. If we don’t hear from you, we won’t know what’s out there, and we won’t know what to ask for.
UTMB Partnership, and Volunteer Opportunity (36:59)
To get a better understanding of the remedial measures necessary to make the Jones Road Superfund Site safe, we have partnered with toxicologists at the University of Texas Medical Branch to try and fill in gaps in our understanding of potential exposure pathways.
One of the things we are working on with them is purchasing GCMS equipment. This is very high-tech, expensive sampling equipment that a small organization like THEA would not be able to acquire on our own, so we are very excited about our ability to access it through our partners at UTMB.
The equipment will allow us to go to the Jones Road Superfund Site and sample the air, water, and soil in real-time. Seeing as we’ve been asking the EPA repeatedly to conduct more testing and our requests have not been met, this is an opportunity for us to take matters into our own hands.
Our partners at UTMB are also going to review the over 400 documents related to the Site that we received earlier this year through an FOIA request. They will provide their expert opinion on the information to help us formulate the comments we will provide on the five-year review.
On May 8th, we will be going door to door in the neighborhood that sits above the plume providing information to the local residents regarding our concerns about the contamination that is still present in the groundwater. Many of these homes still use wells, and we want to make sure residents are made aware of the potential risks and how to mitigate them. If you are interested in volunteering to help with this event, please get in touch by calling us at 281-315-5242 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com