Waste Pits take a major step forward in Superfund process
By Jackie Medcalf
On September 2nd, the EPA finalized the Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) for the clean-up of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site’s southern impoundment.
This is a major step towards physically addressing the contamination south of Interstate 10.
The order allows the clean-up to move into the Remedial Action phase of the superfund process, which begins with creating work plans, procuring materials, and securing contractors. These steps are anticipated to take place over the next year, setting the groundwork for construction to start in the fall of 2022.
EPA holds virtual meeting to update community on San Jacinto River Waste Pits
EPA CONFIRMS LONGER TIME SCHEDULE, SLOWER WORK FOR SJRWP REMEDIATION
HIGHLANDS — The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) held a virtual meeting last Thursday night, June 10, to update the communities around the San Jacinto River on progress to remediate the Waste Pits. This is the first meeting to interface with the public since 2019, due to safety concerns with the Pandemic that limited the travel for the EPA. However, they did meet in person in April with the CAC, or Community Advisory Committee. For those unable to join the meeting by internet, two in-person viewing sites were set up by THEA, at the Highlands Community Center and the Channelview Fire Department.
EPA brought news that the original designs for excavation and dewatering would not work, and more investigation and planning was required. EPA had discovered that the toxic material existed much deeper than original sampling had indicated, not 12′ but in some cases 35′. This meant much more material would have to be removed. The deeper excavation also meant that a double wall cofferdam would be required to safely excavate, and treating of ground water would have to be done “in the dry” by dewatering, not as originally proposed. All of this meant the project would require additional time, work, and money.
NO TIME TO WASTE: A Call for Inclusivity and Transparency in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Process.
HOUSTON – Jackie Young Medcalf, president of the Texas Health & Environment Alliance (THEA) recently learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized a 270-day extension to the design phase of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund process at the request of the responsible parties (International Paper and Waste Management subsidiary, McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation). This extension is on the heels of a 160-day extension authorized by the EPA in September of 2020.
Medcalf feels that the EPA needs to be more transparent and inclusive in these types of decisions. She feels the first extension allowed time for more testing and sampling, but thinks the new extension will just be an unnecessary delay and have the potential problem of moving remediation work back several years and conflict with a new I-10 bridge that TxDOT plans to build over the San Jacinto River.
CHANNELVIEW – According to the C.H.I.C. community action group, residents in the San Jacinto River Estates area along the San Jacinto River near the Waste Pits received a notice letter last week from the Corps of Engineers, calling attention to a dredging and mooring project in the river near Meadowbrook Park and asking for comments within 15 days.
This is apparently a continuation of a project that was attempted last year, by the landowners TimTom Holdings and Holtmar Land LLC. In that project, excavated materials from the south side of I-10 were to be hauled to Beach City, and deposited in a landfill site near a park and residential area. Complaints by citizens and the city government managed to stop that work.
Carolyn Stone of C.H.I.C. says she believes that this project is using an old permit, with a different description of the work. She believes they would need a new permit for this, which is a different project.
Waste Pits remediation schedule extended, disposal and classification of waste questioned
By Gilbert Hoffman
The San Jacinto River Coalition, and THEA have learned that the time line for remediation and removal of the Waste Pits in the river will take considerably more time than originally thought, due to a number of factors.
Pre-Design Investigation, or PDI, discovered that the depth of the waste to be removed was much greater than the original 12 feet. In some places in the Northern Impoundment it was as deep as 25 feet. The significance of this meant that more material would have to be removed, and more water infiltrating from the river would have to be treated. The original time line had been to complete the project in 2 and one-half years, and now it looks like the schedule will be seven years. The Final Design plan called for one year of preparation to procure contractors and materials, 5 years to remove the waste material (the site would be divided into five zones, each separated from the others, and taking a year to remediate) and a year to mobilize.
However, in September THEA learned that the EPA had granted the PRP consultant’s request for additional time for engineering, due to the increased scope and depth of the waste. EPA allowed them to take an additional 160 days to prepare their Final Design plan.
HIGHLANDS– CROSBY – The San Jacinto Waste Pit is one of four local Superfund sites that are being reviewed by the Trump Administration in regard to funding.
The recent flooding threats have called for extensive review of the safeguards of contaminants at the French Limited site, the Sikes Disposal Pits, the Highlands Acid Pits and now Patrick Bayou.
The 185-acre Sikes Disposal Pits was a place for dumping petroleum-based and other chemicals, then 22.5-acres was bought to make French Limited, a commercial waste disposal site that burned waste and deposited about 300,000 cubic yards in a lagoon. When Barrett Station and Crosby residents complained of the stench, the Texas Water Development Board required French Limited to apply for a waste-control permit. After three years of negotiations a permit was granted with provisions that the company never achieved. The permit was cancelled in 1971 and the company was sued for noncompliance and the state took the site.
HIGHLANDS – Concerns for the Coronavirus have put a temporary end to public meetings regarding the remediation of the toxic waste pits in the San Jacinto River.
But twice this month, Jackie Young Medcalf, the director of the San Jacinto River Coalition and THEA, held ZOOM meetings on July 1 and 15, to inform the public on the status of the remediation project for the pits.
The concentration of meetings was due to the release by the EPA of the 30% RD, or Remedial Design documents. There were over 30,000 pages of data and narrative, covering the Northern and Southern impoundment areas, and the Sand Separation area.
In addition to the report, EPA confirmed that the toxic material was deeper than first thought, and that remediation would take longer than announced.
The time line has stretched from a 2 year project, to now what is expected to take 7 years to complete, according to the engineering consultant, GHD Corp. On top of that, Jackie announced in the July 15 Zoom meeting that EPA had just granted a 160 day extension to the start of the project, moving it well into the year 2028. This will likely conflict with TxDOT’s plans to replace the I-10 bridge with a higher, wider highway.
Jackie said that in examining the RD documents, she was concerned about omissions and inconsistencies. She said that there was not enough “due diligence” exhibited in the work process, nor transparency. In the health and safety section of the RD, she said it was too generic and did not address the specific problems of this site, such as barge traffic and weather extremes such as hurricanes and floods.
The security of petrochemical plants during hurricanes comes into question even as some predict more powerful and frequent storms.
Hurricanes Laura and Harvey set records for fastest and strongest intensification for the Gulf Coast from 35 miles per hour to 150 miles per hour winds, also both initiated significant releases of pollutants.
Laura’s are estimated at about 4 million pounds and Hurricane Harvey had over twice that amount. Many will remember 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused French-owned Arkema plant in Crosby, to lose power, igniting a fire and produce a large pillar of acrid, black smoke; residents within a 1.5 mile radius were evacuated.
This time most of Texas was spared although Beaumont and Port Arthur plants had to prepare for and shut down before the storms. Louisiana was hit by intensive winds, flooding, and a chemical fire was recorded in Westlake.
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.
Private trash haulers saving a buck for themselves don’t want to pay commercial landfills to handle their loads of garbage, so often unincorporated areas often find illegal commercial dumping grounds like on the drop off road to Newport Elementary, here, discovered last Friday.
Such illegal commercial dumping cost Crosby Independent School District their recycling revenue a couple of years ago. At the middle school in Crosby the recycle bids were frequently filled not with paper (the only legal entry) but with buckets, plastic, pallets and office waste was thrown. The revenue generated by recycling was to be used for extra curricular expenses.
Superintendent Davis had to curtail the program as the dumping had created an expense when Crosby needed it least.