Community hears Waste Pits update

EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Community members interested in the status of remediation work on the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site heard an update last Tuesday night, April 11 from Rachel Jordan of THEA (Texas Health and Environment Alliance). The meeting was held at the Highlands Community Center, and attended by a small group of residents from both sides of the river.

Rachel reviewed activity since the last THEA meeting in October, and the EPA meeting in December, which had to be held outside the community center due to an unusual odor in the building.

A particular problem has arisen in the northwest corner of the Northern pit, where toxins were discovered deeper than originally tested. The EPA wants this material removed, and the RP (Responsible Party) has said it wants a cap instead of excavation. Due to the depth of the waste, they are concerned about stability of cofferdams in that area. However, the two parties are at an impasse, and EPA has called for an independent reviewer to make a recommendation.

At the Southern site, work is progressing slowly, step by step. Fencing has been installed, equipment for a water treatment system has been delivered, site roads have been built, a guard shack and security are in place, signage has been installed, and debris removed.

According to some observers, excavation has started and some material has been sent to the landfills. This was not confirmed by EPA or THEA however. The landfills have been identified, as Republic in the Beaumont area, and Seabreeze in Aungleton. These landfills can accept Class II nonhazardous waste.

Rachel said that there had been a release, or spill, of toxic material in March, but it was a small amount and contained. However, it caused the operator to reevaluate procedures and take steps to cap open valves properly.

Daily inspections of the site are being undertaken by GHD, the consulting engineers for the RP, and EPA is reviewing the Emergency Response Plan. EPA is also conducting sampling, but has not announced any results.

Members of the audience has questions after this presentation, with some suggestions also.

A question was asked why there is no provision for a third party full-time inspector, instead of the RP contractor’s person.

It was asked whether air monitoring is taking place as work progresses and material is disturbed. The answer seemed to be No.

It was asked whether workers at the Southern site are wearing protective gear, and the answer was No.

Rachel said that her organization will be sending people to the area to advise fishermen about the dangers of toxicity in fish and crabs they may catch. She said this would be the fifth time they have attempted this information outreach, but it doesn’t seem very effective.

Plans for future activity were discussed. Rachel said there will be a Third Party Review of the Northern Waste Pit, the 100% Remedial Design Plan will be completed and presented for review by EPA, and the RP contractor will continue removal of toxic waste material from the Southern site.

Rachel thanked everyone that had attended the THEA fundraiser “Clean Mud for Bugs” fundraiser held at Karbach Brewery last Saturday, March 25. At that event, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee was honored as the “Crawdaddy” of THEA for his work to protect the environment of the county.