EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Whether it’s toxic waste dumps in the San Jacinto River, or unauthorized dredging and barge facilities, the citizens of Channelview and Highlands have two active watchdogs to monitor and protest when activities threaten the environment.
Jackie Young Medcalf and Carolyn Stone can be heard at many public meetings, questioning public authorities and requesting the proper procedures be followed. This Thursday the EPA will be at the Flukinger Community Center in Channelview to report on remediation work in the river, and the public will have an opportunity to question progress. Prior to the meeting, Medcalf issued the following statement:
Dear Community Members,
We have two important action items for the San Jacinto River Coalition.
HARRIS COUNTY – After realignment of Precinct Boundaries this year, the East side of the county found Highlands split in two, with Pct. 3 on the west side of Main Street, and Pct. 2 on the east side. As a result, the area got a new Commissioner, Tom Ramsey. He is now in charge of roads and bridges, drainage, parks, community centers, and work camps that once belong to Pct. 2 and Commissioner Adrian Garcia. In this opinion piece written for his Notes column, Ramsey opines about the San Jacinto Waste Pits and his take on the problem they present. Ramsey writes:
“In the 1960’s a paper manufacturer dumped their waste into pits near the San Jacinto River. The waste was filled with harmful chemicals including the carcinogen called Dioxin. As the course of the river changed, the pits became submerged. In 2011, the EPA recognized the superfund site, and is now known as the as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
Throughout my many years as a professional engineer, these waste pits have been festering, polluting, and killing innocent people and animals around it. We have waited long enough. This week at Court I directed our Pollution Control Director to work with the EPA to expedite the removal of the toxins. Jackie Medcalf, who has been the most ardent supporter of the cleanup effort, told her story at Court as well.
EAST HARRIS COUNTY – The Responsible Parties who are supposed to be working on the plan to remove toxic dioxin from the Waste Pits in the San Jacinto River, have instead sent a letter to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) asking for a delay in the schedule, because they state that the current removal methods they had agreed to are unworkable, or “not implementable.”
Citing new information they are asking for a revised ROD (Record of Decision) which tells them how to clean up the site.
At a press conference last week, on the banks of the San Jacinto River near the Waste Pits, activist Jackie Medcalf called for no delay, saying the process has taken too long, and the objections now are simply “smoke and mirrors” in an attempt by the Responsible Parities to avoid or minimize the remediation work.
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.
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.
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.
HIGHLANDS – The monthly meeting of the San Jacinto River Coalition, and THEA, continue to be held as a virtual meeting on the internet, due to the Pandemic closing all of the available community centers.
Jackie Young Medcalf held the August meeting last Tuesday, and reviewed the significant material that had recently been released by the EPA. This is a series of reports, known as the 30% Remedial Design, numbering about 12 books and 30,000 or more pages.
Her review was from the viewpoint of how the toxic waste will be remediated, how it is characterized for disposal in a landfill, and how it will be safely disposed of and stored for perpetuity.
Jackie also reported that Gary Baumgarten of the Dallas EPA had made a presentation to the CAC, or Community Advisory Council via Zoom, to explain the details of the 30% Remedial Design.
One of the important revelations of the study, is that due to the toxic waste being deeper than originally assumed, much more material will have to be removed, and the project is now projected to take 7 years, instead of the original 2 to 3 years. The new quantity is calculated to be 210,000 cubic yards, 30% more than the original figure of 162,000 c.y.
Plan will cause Seven years of noise, dust, truck traffic
HIGHLANDS – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just released many volumes of reports from the GHD Consulting Engineering firm, detailing their ideas for how to remove the toxic wastes from the North and South Impoundments along the San Jacinto River, known as the Superfund Site.
The report is extremely long and detailed, consisting of 10 volumes of information for the Northern Impound Site, and Two volumes for the Southern Impound Site. In total, there are many thousands of pages with data, drawings, boring logs, and most important a Work Plan on how to remove the waste material, and how it will impact the environment around the communities of Highlands and Channelview.
The engineers have proposed excavation within “cells” on the Northern site, encompassed by sheet piling, and on the Southern site removal without the piling enclosures. The full extent of the work includes driving piles to form five cofferdams, dewatering the soil, excavating the material, and hauling it away to licensed landfills approximately 100 miles away. They envision one year of preparation, five years of excavation, and one year of clean-up and restoration, for a total of seven years of work.