EPA stops negotiations on Waste Pits North site

By Jackie Medcalf, THEA Director

HIGHLANDS – The EPA has announced it is not going to wait for the companies responsible for the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund Site any longer. The agency wrote in a letter to the companies that it will no longer negotiate with the responsible parties for an independent review of the remediation plan.

Here’s THEA’s Analysis Of The Decision The EPA announcement involves the remediation plan for the Northern Pit. For nearly a year, there has been no progress on the project. The EPA wanted the companies responsible for the contamination, International Paper and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation/Waste Management to hire a third party to review the plan. However, after months of delay, the agency and the companies still hadn’t agreed on the requirements for the independent contractor, including how to make sure there were no conflict of interest problems between the third party and the responsible companies. So, the EPA called off the negotiations and said it is considering conducting its own engineering review without asking the companies for any input.

In a letter to the companies, the EPA says it won’t wait any longer and is taking charge. The agency says it will decide what to do next on the cleanup without consulting the companies.

Why is this important?

The companies responsible for Superfund Sites are required to pay for the site cleanup and the government tries to let the companies manage the remediation process under the EPA’s watchful eye. However, under the law, if the EPA decides that the companies responsible for a Superfund Site are not cooperating, it has the power to take over the cleanup process and force the companies to pay any expenses. It is a power that the EPA only uses rarely and only after making every effort to allow the companies to do the right thing. By taking the lead in this step of the process, the EPA is moving in the right direction.


Last year, the EPA told the responsible parties to finalize a plan to fully remove the contaminated material, including dioxin, from the Northern Pit. International Paper and McGinnes said that wasn’t feasible. The companies want to cap a portion of the material and leave it in the river. The EPA called for what is called an “Independent Design Review” (IDR), meaning an unbiased outside engineering firm would evaluate technical design challenges.

In its letter, the EPA said, “Nine months later, however, the IDR has not started, and the parties have not even agreed on a protocol on how to conduct it.” The letter says that International Paper and McGinnes’ approach appears to make it “difficult, and potentially impossible…to develop and conduct a mutually acceptable” review.

The letter ends by saying that, instead of allowing the companies’ approach to delay the process anymore, “The EPA will determine its next steps for the RD and inform Respondents accordingly.”

Bottom Line

This is an important and much needed step in protecting the health of the communities along the San Jacinto River and the health of the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay Estuary. THEA applauds the EPA for sending the message, International Paper and McGinnes/Waste Management…Enough Is Enough!