Fred Lewis

“Citizens unhappy with lack of action on toxic waste pits”

HIGHLANDS – Over one hundred local residents packed the San Jacinto Community Center last Thursday night, Jan. 30, for a public meeting to hear the federal EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency, report on the status of work to solve the toxins in the waste pits in the San Jacinto River. They presented six options ranging from cover in place, to full removal of the contaminated sediment.

After listening to a long presentation and slide show from the EPA staff, which seemed similar to the presentation exactly one year ago, but in slightly more detail, the audience focused on the sixth and final scheme, which promised complete removal of the toxic material. EPA project manager Gary Miller explained that this option had pros and cons.

Although it promised complete removal, nevertheless is was expensive, took a long time, and therefore exposed the community to spread of the toxins if a hurricane should strike during the process. The cost estimate was a wide range from $104 million to $636 million, and the time required to remove 208,000 cubic yards of sediment would be 16 months. The polluting companies will have to pay for the remediation, Miller said.

Miller revealed a new bit of information of grave importance: the South Impoundment, which up till now has not been part of this study, is larger and contains more toxins than the North pits, and will become the next step in the Superfund study. This area therefore threatens homes in the Channelview and west bank areas.

Present at the meeting were a number of county and state officials, and what might be termed independent environmentalists, as well as residents of Highlands, Lynchburg, and Channelview.

This group included local residents that have formed the San Jacinto River Coalition; the Texans Together environmental group; and the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Fred Lewis, president of the TexansTogether organization, questioned EPA’s Gary Miller on a number of points, including why the state has not conducted an epidimiology study, why redfish and flounder are not included in the tests or warnings, and why the EPA is relying on reports from the PRP, or parties responsible for the pollution.

Other issues raised by the audience included the high incidence of cancer in some areas of Highlands; the dredging of sand in the river that is obviously spreading toxins to other areas; and the activity of the barges north of I-10 that are stirring up sediment and poisonous materials.

Miller said that the Final Report, termed a RI/FS, or Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study, would be ready late in 2014, and at that time EPA would make a decision on how to deal with the waste pits permanently.