EPA completes SJR Waste Pit interviews

Janetta Coats, EPA
Janetta Coats, EPA

HIGHLANDS – Three environmental agencies were in town last week, to interview residents about their experiences and opinions on the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, or Superfund. The team was led by the EPA’s Janetta Coats, a Community Involvement Coordinator, and included representatives from the Texas Health and Human Services Department, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The team interviewed interested residents for two days, at the Highlands Community Center, and then held a Round Table wrap-up session on the final afternoon, Wednesday, September 12.

Coats said that this interview process was a required part of the Superfund process. Responses will be included in a final version of a document called the Community Involvement Plan. A draft copy of this is now available on the EPA website.

Although the interviews were individual and confidential, the public was invited to sit in on the final Round Table. At this session, about 20 people attended. Included were the interview team, concerned residents, environmental activists, journalists, and attorneys for aggrieved parties and environmental issues.

Coats started the Round Table by noting that all information about the Waste Pits is available at the Stratford Library in Highlands, as well as on the EPA website. Citizens may also call an information number, 800-533-3508 to discuss the site or ask questions.

Coats had prepared a list of questions as prompts for the assembled group and those who had been interviewed.

Simple questions included: “Are you aware of the site?” and “Are you aware of any controversial concerns about the site?”

She also asked if anyone was aware of the activity taking place on the site.

She wanted to know how residents perceived the EPA and its work. In response to this, it was suggested that more notices and information should be furnished to the community. It was suggested the Home Owners Associations, and Civic Clubs could be a vehicle for distributing information.

Coats asked what health concerns individuals had. She was told that some people had developed endometriosis, a disease of the reproductive system.

Coats was asked by the group why fishing was still allowed in these polluted waters. They said posting signs was good but ignored by many. It was suggested that a large billboard might be effective.

Coats asked what information should be given to the public, and the answer was more about the dangers of Dioxin. She asked what media were followed by residents: social media, newspapers, school notices, and service clubs were answered.

Coats also wanted to know how often to communicate, and was told “often” by every media type, and local speaking engagements.