EPA to investigate San Jac River pollution

Congressman questions Ike’s effect on toxic waste pits

HIGHLANDS — U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) is concerned that poisonous dioxins from the Channel’s San Jacinto Waste Pits may have spread to adjacent areas in the wake of Hurricane Ike’s storm surge that swept up the San Jacinto River beginning Sept. 13.

After discussing the situation at a hearing today with the EPA’s top Superfund official, Green said the EPA would investigate all 29 Superfund sites potentially affected by the category two hurricane starting this week. Seventeen sites in Louisiana and seven in Texas have been preliminarily inspected so far, and the EPA set a goal of completing their evaluation of the hurricane’s impact on Superfund sites by Oct. 8. The San Jacinto Waste Pits site is not among those inspected so far.

At the hearing, which Green conducted as chairman of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, he emphasized the gravity of the situation to EPA Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response Susan Bodine.

“I am deeply concerned that these dioxins could have been spread to an even wider area. The [San Jacinto] River drains into Galveston Bay which produces more seafood than any other estuary except the Chesapeake,” Green said.

Green added that “uncontrolled human exposure” was his primary concern because he had seen his constituents catching fish and crabs in the dioxin-contaminated San Jacinto River despite posted warnings, and the hurricane could have pushed contaminated material downstream and into neighborhoods along the San Jacinto River.

The situation at the San Jacinto Waste Pits has not been officially classified as “uncontrolled human exposure” yet. However, in response to a question from Green, Bodine said EPA’s guidelines would classify a site as “uncontrolled human exposure” when people are consuming food caught in the area despite official warnings.

Green recounted what he had seen on a Sept. 22 tour of Baytown, a low-lying city in his district hit hard by the storm surge. Property had been damaged by contaminated flood water, he said, and a constituent found a barrel containing an unknown substance that had washed up with the surge, which prompted a call to the local hazardous materials crew for removal.

Green also said he would consider supporting reinstatement of a Superfund fee if the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee finds that a lack of financial resources is hindering clean-up of contaminated sites or contributing to uncontrolled human exposure to toxins.

“I’m going to stay on top of this issue until I’m satisfied that no one is at risk from toxic contamination in our area or at any Superfund site around the country,” Green said after the hearing.