Waste Pits: Work stalled on Northern site

EPA and Responsible Party disagree on Remediation Criteria

HIGHLANDS – An informational meeting was held at the Highlands Community Center last Tuesday evening, August 29, with members of the San Jacinto River Coalition and THEA (Texas Health and Environment Alliance).

THEA representatives Jackie Medcalf and Rachel Jordan presented information on the status of remediation efforts at the Northern and Southern Impoundment sites.

Rachel Jordan was able to report positive news about work accomplished at the Southern site. To date, since construction started in November 2022, approximately 50% of the toxic waste material has been removed, amounting to over 2000 truckloads or 58,000 cubic yards, and taken offsite to a licensed disposal facility.

There have been two minor releases of waste water during excavation, Jordan said, in March and May of this year. In each case, the water was contained and stored properly. Jordan noted that an EPA inspector is present every day to check on proper procedures. This was a major issue with THEA that was properly resolved. Jordan said that the work was on schedule, to be completed by July 31, 2024.

It was also noted that work is continuing through the hurricane season, which was not the original plan. However, Jordan explained that EPA had agreed to additional safeguards to stop work and cover open excavations, in the event a hurricane is likely to reach the work site.


Jackie Medcalf had to report that the situation at the Northern Impoundment site was quite different than the Southern site. EPA and the RP (Responsible Party) are in disagreement on the details of the Remedial Design. Although the parties signed off on a Record Of Decision (ROD) 6 years ago, subsequent tests and design and safety issues have delayed the RP from agreeing to proceed.

Issues that have not been resolved include the criteria level for toxic material to remain, dewatering systems, depth of sheeti piling, and the dangers of uplift if the river water level and pressure are too high.

EPA has told the RP that there proposal is “not what we agreed on” in the ROD, and asked for an independent technical review by a third party engineer to make recommendations.

It was also learned in the THEA presentation that with the work proposal for the Northern Impoundment seemingly stalled, that EPA has referred the matter to its legal department for possible assumption of responsibility for executing the work. EPA rules allow them to take over remediation if the RP is found to not be responsive.

Frustrated by the long delay, Jackie Medcalf suggested that it was time for residents to mount an “issue based campaign” to pressure the parties to resolve the problems and move forward.


In other matters, it was announced that TXDOT has scheduled public meetings on September 19 and 21 to display details on the proposed bridge over the San Jacinto River to replace the existing bridge and highway lanes. It was noted that this design may have a major impact on the Waste Pits, both during construction and afterward depending upon its right-of-way design. More information will be available after the meetings, Medcalf said.

It was noted that the Cancer Study by the Texas State Health Services Department had not been updated in many years, and Medcalf said that THEA will ask for a new study. She said that previous data showed at least 17 types of cancer that are unusually high in the study area around the waste pits.

THEA has scheduled the next public meeting for Tuesday, November 14 where information on all these issues will be updated.