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SJR waste pits still a problem

McNair – A new ally to area residents concerned with pollution of the San Jacinto River ventured out to talk with residents here about the San Jacinto River Waste Pit Superfund Site last Thursday.

The Galveston Bay Foundation (founded in 1987) hosted a public meeting last Thursday night at the J.D. Walker Community Center, to provide more information on the sites concerning how cleanup is going and what the future could hold.

The pits are located on the west bank of the San Jacinto River immediately upstream of the I-10 Bridge in Harris County. An additional pit, currently under investigation, is located south of I-10.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing the cleanup of the pits, which received wastes from the Champion Paper mill in the 1960s. These wastes contain dioxins, which are toxic and can cause increased risk of cancer and other threats to human health such as liver damage and birth defects.

Startling revelations involve the bio-containment cap, (that this reporter was told would not erode at a meeting in Highlands last Summer) has eroded and must be replaced in certain locations. Tuesday, crews were probing the armored cap to determine where leaks have been found. The caps were designed to hold contaminants up to the 200 year flood level and yet has in two locations already eroded, never having attained the 200 year flood level.

Contamination Reports not ready

Both Sarah Davis and Jim Strouhal of the San Jacinto River Coalition attended the meeting and determined slightly different perspectives.

Davis learned there are 5 active Superfund Sites in Houston where construction does not comply, but felt there was little new and they still await the completion of additional studies.

Studies concerning the wildlife and migration of contamination have not been released but have been conducted. The new studies that should determine how extensive damage is to the environment, what the disposition of the sites are and therefore what is to be done about the sites is due out in March.

From this process feasibility studies will be conducted about what can be done to remediate the situations. The feasibility process is expected this Fall. Recommendation of a clean-up remedy by responsible parties is expected about December of this year.

Jim Strouhal found reason for hope in the broadening of allies and expertise on the subject.

“I feel like Scott Jones and Bob Stokes have been closely associated and allied with trying to communicate with the public concerning the Superfund Site including the entire Galveston Bay Watershed.” said Strouhal.

Linda Broach of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been studying the dioxins in sediment extensively throughout the greater Bay area to determine where they originate.

Some of the public still lean on the signs warning of biohazards from eating fish and crabs from the locations not to fish.

Attendants learned that there are other concerns in the associated waters. One example is that PCB contamination is found from the Bridge of U.S. 90 all the way to the Trinity Bay and out as far as Galveston.

“PCBs have been a concern since 2001, consumption advisories have been issued but unless you are paying attention, you are not hearing about those.” Strouhal answered.

Groundwater tests scheduled

Strouhal asked about taking ground water samples in Highlands and was told that ground water samples would be taken for testing in February driven by the EPA. Results of seafood samples taken in 2011 and 2012 have yet to be released.

The Galveston Bay Foundation received a grant from the EPA to hire scientists from the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) to serve as the independent technical advisors and review site cleanup process reports, provide expert input and communicate their findings to the public.