County Attorney Ryan updates Rotary on San Jacinto Waste Pits

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan came to visit the Highlands Rotary Club Tuesday, and gave members an update on one of the most pressing issues at hand in the community — the remediation of the waste pits on the San Jacinto River.
“One reason I love coming out to Highlands is I grew up in Clear Lake Shores before NASA came in, and Highlands reminds of the way Clear Lake used to be,” Ryan said.
Ryan was cordial but to the point, and got to the update on the situation quickly.
“I just checked today, and the containment part is over with,” Ryan said. “ About 70,000 tons of rocks were placed on the fittings on top of the dioxin sites in the river.
“There is a lot of natural damage to this area, and previously there weren’t a lot of waste requirements for the petrochemical industry. This site is a classic example of what used to be done.”
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 containment work included clearing the site of vegetation, rebuilding edge berms, and then installing a polyethylene membrane liner, and covering it with two feet of heavy rock material. In one corner of the site, cement was added to the soil to stabilize it further.
Ryan said that now that containment of the toxins is complete, the next phase of clean-up is due.
“Now we will start monitoring the area, learning what’s going to happen,” Ryan said. “The EPA is doing the monitoring to see if the containment is doing its job.”
Ryan also said that a new site has been found on the other side of the San Jacinto River Bridge.
“There’s another place that may have the same type of pollution,” Ryan said. “Once we determine how the current site is being contained, there’s going to be water monitoring along the bay to see what needs to be done next. Containment may be the best that can be done.”
Though Ryan did not have a measurement on the newly discovered site, he said it was “pretty substantial.”
Ryan said that the EPA would also be looking into the possibility of contamination of freshwater wells, as the interconnectivity of underground sites could be a problem.
“It’s part of having the petrochemical industry be such a big part of our economy here,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t until recently that much concern was felt by some corporations; chemicals were just dumped on the ground somewhere and they would be carried into the water over time.”
As for locating all parties responsible, Ryan said it was an ongoing process.
“Through enough searching you usually find out,” Ryan said. “Most things are traceable, companies keep copies of things. It might take some time, but we will find whatever we can.”