Click here to watch the Town Hall.

It was great to catch up with everyone at this week’s town hall meeting! Thank you all for such an engaging discussion.

For those of you who weren’t able to attend, you can find a recording on our YouTube channel here. Or keep reading for a summary of what we discussed!

City of Houston Water Testing Program (1:59)

By filling out a brief survey about the construction of your home, you can find out if you qualify for free tap water quality testing. This survey will not ask any demographic questions. It’s strictly about the infrastructure of your home and when it was built. This program ends on October 29, 2021. The survey can be found here.

If you end up taking part in this program, we would love for you to share the results of your water testing to help us learn more about the state of public water here in Houston.

Health Survey Updates (4:14)

Last Spring we received hundreds of responses to our health survey in which members of each of the communities we work in shared with us the types of cancer and other illnesses that their families are battling or have battled in the past. 

We compiled these cancer types and sent a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) asking them to provide us with updated information on the rates for each of these cancer types mentioned in the health surveys. This information is important in helping us understand the scope of the public health threats facing each community.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, DSHS denied our requests. They refused to assess any of the cancer rates we asked for, citing that our requests did not meet the guidelines for a viable request.

We consulted with toxicologists and other public health experts, and together we have come to the conclusion that our requests do, in fact, meet their guidelines. 

San Jacinto River Coalition (7:35)

For reference, the southern impoundment at the Waste Pits is primarily landlocked. The northern impoundment, on the other hand, is about 60% submerged in the river’s water during an average tide. 

A major update we received was that the EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order” for International Paper (one of the Waste Pits responsible parties) to commence with the cleanup of the southern impoundment.

This means that construction can officially begin to physically remove the toxic waste from the southern impoundment Four years ago, the EPA issued the Record of Decision which began the remedial design phase where planning for the best way to remove the waste took place. This Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) moves the southern impoundment out of the design phase and into the action phase.

The order holds International Paper accountable for the cleanup, not MIMC, the Waste Management subsidiary. International Paper responded with an Intent to Comply. 

It is estimated that procurement of materials and contracts will take one year, meaning construction is expected to begin in the Fall of 2022.

The northern impoundment is moving more slowly. 

Additional sampling was conducted at the northern pit this summer,  and we are currently awaiting the result of that sampling. 

We are expected to have the final design for remediation at the northern site in the first quarter of 2022.

Jones Road Ground Water Plume Superfund Site (13:14)

In the area surrounding the Jones Road Ground Water Plume Superfund Site, some properties are connected to public city water, some are supplied by private groundwater wells, and the water supply for some is unknown.

Right now, the Jones Road Superfund Site is in the investigation period of its five-year review.

The five-year review is a critical step of the Superfund process because this is when the EPA evaluates whether the measures put in place to protect public health and the environment are working or whether more needs to be done.

We know that there are several potential exposure pathways that still exist at this site, so we will be putting together a formal report to present to the agency with our statements on what needs to be done to ensure effective remediation.

One example of an area where the agency could improve the current remediation measure is the enforcement of drilling restrictions and compliance with the requirement for institutional controls laid out in the Record of Decision for this site. 

Although the EPA has issued a restriction on drilling wells in the area due to groundwater contamination, we know that new, unpermitted, wells are still being dug. The EPA could start by enforcing the well restriction to ensure that local homeowners are unknowingly bringing contaminated water into their homes through their taps. 

The Record of Decision at this site requires the EPA to inform homeowners that the groundwater is contaminated and that using a local well to supply water to their homes could be dangerous. However, there has been little to no communication with local property owners. 

The EPA has stated in writing that they know bathing and ingesting groundwater remains the primary potential exposure pathway at this site due to the number of local residents who still rely on private wells. We will be addressing this in our formal report.

Once our formal report is written, we will be meeting with local elected officials to get them on board so that our message is amplified. The report, together with letters of support from elected officials, will be submitted to the EPA by mid-November.

Once the report is submitted, we will seek to rally public support to demonstrate to the EPA that the community is engaged and prepared to hold them accountable for making the necessary changes at the Jones Road Site.

The EPA will be releasing their official five-year review report in the Fall of 2022, at which time we will know whether they took our concerns and requests into consideration.

Greater Fifth Ward (20:24)

In June of this year, Mayor Turner issued a statement calling for the EPA to get involved in the remediation efforts at the Union Pacific creosote contamination site. Local residents know that there is a plume of contamination below their properties and that they may be exposed to toxins coming up from this plume and releasing into the air as vapors. This contamination has been managed by the state up until this point, but thanks to effective advocacy from the community, the mayor is seeking federal involvement to ensure that remediation is thorough and moves at a faster pace.

In September of this year, the EPA sent Union Pacific a letter asking two specific questions: when Union Pacific first became aware of the contamination and what is the plan for cleanup. 

This month, the mayor has also begun discussing a need for buy-outs in the Greater Fifth Ward.

Buy-outs are complicated. On one hand, many residents consider such a solution to be a win. They don’t feel safe in their home due to the risk of exposure, and they want to be bought out so that they can relocate to a safer area. This can be faster than waiting for a remediation plan to come to fruition.

On the other hand, many families do not want to be forced to leave their homes — they want their properties to be cleaned up. Many residents rely on the support networks of their local community and its proximity to their workplaces and other significant parts of their lives.

THEA previously hosted a conversation with national Superfund leader Lois Gibbs on relocation. Find the recording here.

Dates for Upcoming THEA Meetings (26:41)

We will be hosting community-specific meetings in the next few months based on when we expect to have further updates for each site.

The next community-specific meeting is going to be for the San Jacinto River Coalition on October 26th at 6:00 PM. We will meet to discuss details regarding updates at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site. By then we anticipate the EPA will have released the sampling data that was conducted at the northern impoundment over the summer. 

Then, we will have a Jones Road community meeting on November 16th at 6:00 PM. At that time, we will have just submitted our formal report to the EPA on our opinions of the remedial actions, so that will be the perfect time for us to get into the details of what the agency said they were going to do five years ago and what they’ve actually done.

And finally, on December 7th at 6:00 PM, we will be meeting with the communities of the Greater Fifth Ward. At that meeting, we hope to have more information on the EPA’s letter to Union Pacific and the mayor’s call for buy-outs.

You can register for upcoming meetings on our website at www.txhea.org/allevents

Questions and Answer with Meeting Participants (29:52)