By LEWIS SPEARMAN
HIGHLANDS A meeting attended by 45 surrounding areas residents at the Highlands Community Center had representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), Texas Dept. of State Health Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, Harris County Health Department, Congressman Gene Greens Office and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to continued the dialogue with the surrounding community concerning the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site.
The Public Health Assessment reported on the removal efforts of sediment from three Waste Pits on about 20 acres of land situated on the West bank of the San Jacinto River just North of the I-10 Bridge contaminated with polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans.
This substance is largely from paper bleaching agents dumped at the site. Land has subsided since a paper mill began pouring waste there between 1964 and 1973 (mostly 1965 and 1966) such that two of the pits are now below water.
The location had been a popular fishing location and the highest level of cancer causing agents are found in blue catfish and crabs near the location followed shortly by Hybird Striped Bass then Spotted Seatrout. Any fish from these pits are likely to have 2.04 pg/g. It might strongly be suggested not to eat fish or crabs from near these locations and avoid wading near these Federal Superfund pits.
Sand was once mined from northwest of these locations, according to the University of Houston in a Dioxin TMDL Project Report. Where the sand went is unknown. Levels of concentration of dioxins in the mined sand is also unknown. Sand from the contaminated pits has washed downstream during heavy rains and runoff.
Depart. of Health and Human Services evaluated 7 on-site samples and 4 off-site samples from samples collected by the TCEQ. According to E.P.A.s Stephen Tzhone contamination of collected samples appeared diminished substantially the farther from the sites on the river. The contamination seems to be tied to sediment in the general area. Oral contact with sediments, having the sediment on your skin and eating fish or crabs containing higher levels of dioxins and furans are the likely ways to be exposed to the apparent cancer causing agents.
It was determined that exposure from airborne dust is unlikely, groundwater exposure is unlikely and surface water injestion is less likely.
Children, subsistence fishermen and sporadic fishermen over years near the location were most likely to be effected negatively by exposure.
Specifically the sites that had the highest measured contamination was at the sand pits (15,594 pg/g,) near the sand pits (82.24) then the Houston Ship Channel above and West of the San Jacinto River(65.69.) Next the contamination was Up-Stream and tributaries (15.97) and downstream from the pits (13.75.) Of all locations sampled off site only 40.04 pg/g were measured. It is suggested that 100 pg/g per year is dangerous and increases the risk for cancer.
Tom Hill of Tug Boat Marina asked some pointed questions concerning the contaminations. His questioned groundwater contamination, economic loss for businesses from contamination, how far North of I-10 has been contaminated and what effect Hurricane Ike had on spreading contamination. After those questions he addressed is the site being stabilized or is the contamination being removed. Then he asked what are the reparations or cost recovery for businesses effected by the contamination.
Hill asked the study makers to come out and test the ground water of nearby houses to give assurance of the drinking water being free from contamination. Hill was kind enough to point out that the representatives are there to fix the problems and did not cause the problems.
The data to completely say how effected by toxins the farther away areas are has yet to completely be concluded but samples show less concentration in areas away from the pits. Dioxin levels within a half mile radius of the pits show low levels, so levels they are not considered different from most other locations.
New location studied
A new location has been identified as possibly contaminated over South of the Superfund Pits on the other side of the I-10 Bridge on a longer strip currently near existing businesses and houses.
Jim Strouhal specifically pointed out to the public that the new location was being studied for benzene, chloroform, naphthalene and other contaminates not related to the Superfund Pits should be paid attention. He said, If you have a water well within 5 miles of 18310 Market Street, those people and anyone else that is interested should be at this meeting to find out what this Municipal Setting Designation by the City of Houston is about and is another issue of which we should all be aware.
Concurrently with the Remedial Investigation, a Time Critical Removal Action is implemented to stabilize the source of the Site contamination. Currently about 40,330 tones of the sediment has been placed as of May 10, 2011. The average placement of the toxins is about 750 tones per day. This placement is about 65% complete and on target to meet the E.P.A. schedule.
The E.P.A. is accepting comments on this site until May 31, 2011. For more information on the Public Health Assessment visit on-line www. dshs.state.tx.us.epitox.posted or one can visit the Stratford Library at 509 Stratford in Highlands.