THEA protests for stronger EPA remediation

Jackie Medcalf and protestors at the Waste Management Headquarters in Houston
Jackie Medcalf and protestors at the Waste Management Headquarters in Houston

Group wants higher standards for San Jacinto River Waste Pits

Houston, TX – August 6, 2020 – As part of the ongoing fight to remediate the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Jackie Young Medcalf of THEA is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to hold polluters to a higher standard of accountability through ensuring more integrity in the remediation process. On Thursday, August 6 at 10am a press conference was held at Waste Management Headquarters, and it highlighted the recent discovery of how omitted sample data and a skewed site analysis have slanted the outlook towards the site’s remediation and ultimately the disposal of the toxic waste material.

The Waste Pits Superfund Site is the result of dioxin and PCB contaminated paper mill waste that was disposed of along the San Jacinto River in the 1960s. The Waste Pits presented such a great danger to the environment and public health, they were listed for clean-up under the Federal Superfund program in 2008. Recently, the EPA released documents from the responsible parties consultants and our review of the 30,000+ pages of technical reports found that the samples collected for analysis of dioxin disposal classification were almost all collected from areas known to contain no dioxins, and that the consultants requested data be omitted from the lab reports. Joint community, advocate and governmental efforts have made profound progress in protecting aquatic life and public health within the region. However, now there is an overwhelming need for sampling and analysis which address all contaminants of concern and the EPA’s oversight to ensure this process is done with integrity.

What is at Stake?

The longer the waste remains the greater the potential for increased risks of cancer and autoimmune diseases among locals and further contamination to the environment. A location known as the sand separation area of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits showed higher levels of dioxin than previous reports, and these will not degrade in toxicity for decades—possibly centuries. The extra five years added to the remediation timeline, is simply five years of open contamination that our communities and environment cannot endure. This is a call for EPA to recharacterize the site through sampling and analysis which addresses the known dioxin sites, AND an appeal to the moral character of the parties whose dishonesty means that pollutants have more time to poison our communities and environment. Enough people have needlessly passed from environmental negligence, but we have a choice to ensure the safety of generations of Texans and our environment through reprioritizing the site based on accurate dioxin assessments and through restoring the immediacy to the site’s clean up timeline.

About Texas Health and Environment Alliance

The Texas Health and Environment Alliance’s mission is to protect water resources and public health by advocating and collaborating for the safe remediation of toxic contamination. We endeavor to establish an informed and engaged public movement to restore and protect environmental resources from toxic contamination.

About the San Jacinto Waste Pit/Coalition

For many years, the Waste Pits along the San Jacinto River were a hidden crisis posing great danger to nearby communities. The abandoned, dioxin-filled pits tainted local seafood and the river for decades. In 2015 the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed elevated rates of cancer in children and people of all ages living near the Pits. THEA’s San Jacinto River Coalition, which is a community led group working to educate the public about the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site was successful at urging the EPA to fully remediate the site.

About the EPA and their Decisions to Remediate the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Sites

On October 11, 2017, the EPA approved a clean up plan to begin remediation of the San Jacinto Waste Pits. In addition to installing energizing controls like a cofferdam, the cleanup plan includes the removal of dioxin contained materials from the waste pits to be off-site for disposal. The approval of this plan and the preceding $115 million agreement to remove the site’s toxic sludge successfully removed the San Jacinto Waste Pits from the “Emphasis List” of superfunds sites. Unfortunately, the recent omissions found in the EPA’s reports impacted this progress. The recent adjustment of the remediation timeline to 7 years is a dangerous blow to project, which poses ramifications for local communities and the environment.