Divers find tear in Waste Pits cover -EPA orders immediate repair to membrane

Congressman Gene Green

HIGHLANDS—For the third time, the geo-plate designed to contain the toxins within the waste pits below I-10 on the San Jacinto River breached. On Dec. 30, construction crews began to fix the cap.

In the second week of December, federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) divers discovered this new hole in a structure designed and then said resistant to crack. What the E.P.A. had found was a hole some 22 feet wide and 25 feet long pointing in the direction of Highlands. On Dec. 24, members of the San Jacinto River Coalition, Congressman Gene Green, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and some residents of Highlands convened near the site to meet with EPA scientists. They were joined by a host of journalists including the Star-Courier. Jacquelyn Young, director of the San Jacinto River Coalition, brought homemade cookies for the EPA divers and scientists exploring the problem and talking to officials on Christmas Eve. Highlands resident Doyce Bobo was on hand and told reporters he had prostrate cancer, “and this is where it comes from.”

In 2011, the companies responsible for filling the pits with toxic sludge put a cap that cost about $9 Million around the pits to stop them from spreading dioxin into the surrounding waters. Dioxin has been found to have carcinogenic properties and to harm reproductive processes. Some eight months ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that removing the sludge could be as hazardous as leaving it. Attendants believe the rip in the dome is from a minor flood.

“We think that the only real solution is the removal of this dioxin,” said Vince Ryan, who’s office last year won a settlement from the responsible companies, “This breach in the temporary cap, I think, illustrates how dangerous this remains. If a hurricane came across this spot, who knows?”

“If you live in east Harris County, this is important to you,” said Congressman Gene Green (D-Houston). “Whether you live in Highlands or here in Channelview, you ought to be concerned. You know, when I was in the sixties, I water skied here on this river. And people still do it.”