SAN JACINTO RIVER – Remediation completed at waste pits

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

SAN JACINTO RIVER– Standing on a rock embankment, on a hot, dry day last Wednesday, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan called a news conference to announce that contractors were finishing the containment of the toxic waste that had occupied the 20 acre site previously.
The waste pits are on a spit of land that is north of the I-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River, along the west bank. Originally the land was above the water line, but subsidence over the years allowed water to cover some of the land and toxins to leak into the river.
The history of the site is that in 1965, waste impoundments were established by constructing berms around the land. Waste sludge, which included industrial toxins, were brought from the Champion Paper Mill in Pasadena, and disposed of on this site.
The two companies involved in the waste dumping, McGinnes Industrial and International Paper, have cooperated with clean-up efforts, after the site was put on the EPA Superfund Priority List in 2008, and an accelerated clean-up schedule was agreed to with efforts from local Congressmen Gene Green and Ted Poe.

The project is expected to cost about $10 million dollars in this first phase, according to Randy Brown of Anchor QEA, one of the contractors. The containment work included clearing the site of vegetation, rebuilding edge berms, and then installing a polyethylene membrane liner, and covering it with 2 feet of heavy rock material. In one corner of the site, cement was added to the soil to stabilize it further.
After the initial containment phase, monitoring and testing will continue, and at some future date a decision will be made by the EPA on whether a second phase is necessary for more permanent remediation. This might include removal of the sludge, or simply letting the biomembrane continue to work.
Because the toxins on the site are so dangerous, including dioxins, the agencies involved have worked with the local communities in Channelview and Highlands to discourage fishing, swimming and boating in the area. Dioxin is know to cause cancer and birth defects. It can be ingested orally, by touch, or through eating seafood products. Signs in several languages have been posted, as well as fences, but Ryan noted that some people continue to ignore them and fish in the river, despite the health dangers. The Galveston Bay Foundation and Texans Tomorrow have been enlisted to help communicate with the public.
The Texas Department of Health has found that fish and blue crabs in the river, from the site to the Lynchburg Ferry, contain dioxins, pesticides and PCBs, all cancer-causing health concerns.
Testing in the area around the Waste Pits has discovered an additional site which may be toxic, according to Ryan. A 3 to 5 acre site south of the I-10 bridge, has shown levels of toxicity and will require further monitoring. This location is on the property of several shipyards in the area, approximately where the old Market Street ends. There is also a possibility of well water being contaminated in this area.