The Houston Rockets’ Hall of Fame Center just turned 42 on September 12th. 

Why are we honoring Yao on this blog? Because it helps us explain something important about the superfund process – It’s a long, detailed process that requires a high level of technical understanding.  

This summer, a document called the “PreFinal 90% Remedial Design Northern Impoundment” plan was filed for San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site. The documents were submitted to the EPA by the engineering firm contracted by International Paper Company & McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation, the companies legally responsible for the site. It’s a crucial step towards the final stages of the cleanup. Currently THEA’s staff is reviewing the document for our San Jacinto River Coalition.

It is over 100,000 pages long, including appendices. 

Which Brings us back to why we’re recognizing Yao Ming. 

If you printed out every page of the EPA filing, the stack would be more than 33 feet tall. 

At 7 feet, 6 inches tall, Yao could jump somewhere around 9 feet, 8 inches. 

So, for the sake of comparison, this critically important document is more than three times taller than Yao could jump. 

EPA specialists will sort through the plan and make recommendations. It is important for us to go through it as well because it will define the final clean-up for the toxic pits. Small details, hidden away in footnotes or chemical analyses, can significantly change the way the remediation is done. For example, during an earlier stage of the process, we discovered that the companies were proposing to sample areas that we already knew didn’t contain toxic waste, which could have significantly reduced the scope of the cleanup. As a result of our work, the EPA required more sampling from contaminated areas and expanded the area that needed to be remediated as a result. It wound up being a victory for the San Jacinto Coalition.

Sweating the details, the way we do at THEA, can also pay off in shortening the time it takes to restore a site like San Jacinto. The area was contaminated when dioxin waste from the old Champion Paper Mill was dumped in pits along the river back in the 1960’s, but the public didn’t learn about it until 2005. By then contaminants were already migrating into the river and Galveston Bay. The EPA finally designated it as a Superfund site in 2008, the same year Yao carried the torch to start the Olympics in Beijing, for you basketball fans.

Fourteen years later, we can see the finish line on the effort to clean up the site and take San Jacinto off the Superfund list. That is too long if you live near or use the river and bay. However, compared to most other sites on the Superfund list, our work with the coalition has helped cut more than a decade off the EPA process. 

We still have a lot of work ahead of us and, under the current schedule, our community will still be at risk from the site for at least another seven years, especially if there is a hurricane or other flooding event. 

But we are going to continue to monitor the EPA process, comment on the documents as they come in, and keep the local communities informed. Hopefully, we will be able to celebrate the completion of the remediation by Yao’s 49th birthday!