San Jacinto River waste pit named a cleanup priority

HIGHLANDS— The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has placed the San Jacinto River Waste Pits on a shortlist of potential Superfund sites.
The waste pits, located near the I-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River, are contaminated with polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, commonly called dioxins, and polychlorinated dibenzofurans, commonly called furans.
Wildlife in the area, including fish, has become contaminated with the pollutants, which can cause cancer and other health problems in humans.
Despite posted warnings, some area residents continue to use contaminated parts of the river as a food source.
The warning, posted in 1990, cautioned against eating catfish and blue crab taken from the river. The state’s heath department says children under 12 and women who are nursing or are pregnant should not eat this seafood.
“This is a major step toward really getting the river cleaned up,” Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) said. “I’ve been working with the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to get to this point when the source of the dioxin was discovered.”
The pollution emanates from paper mill waste pits in which dioxins formed during bleaching process were dumped in the 1960s and 1970s which are now abandoned.
Scientists knew for many years that pollution levels in the San Jacinto River were high, but they didn’t know why until recently when they discovered the pits.
In March 2007, Green and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) asked the EPA to designate the waste pits a Superfund site, and in July the State of Texas added its name to the request.
“The San Jacinto River has been a part life for folks in that area long before the Texas Revolution,” Poe said. “Cleaning it up for future generations must take a top priority. I am very pleased that the EPA has recognized the need to do so and I will continue to work closely with Congressman Green to see that we do everything possible to get the federal assistance needed to clean it up.”
The Superfund designation would normally provide federal money to help clean up pollutants if the responsible parties aren’t found or are insolvent. However, because appropriations for Superfund projects have dwindled in recent years, Green may have to make a special request in order to fund a cleanup of the site.