San Jacinto Waste Pits

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced high levels of dioxin waste are currently exposed to the San Jacinto River from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site. In the EPA dive team’s recent inspection, they found 22 areas of concern and collected samples from those locations. The sample results show levels of 60,500 ng/kg of dioxin exposed to the river. The level that prompts a cleanup is 30 ng/kg. 

The executive director of Texas Health and Environment Alliance, Jackie Young: “Yet again astronomic levels of dioxin are found exposed to the river from the San Jacinto Waste Pits. The bottom line is the cap is not working and public health and the environment are at risk.” 

Per the EPA statement: “The dioxin in the waste material does not dissolve easily in water, but it can migrate further out into the surrounding sediments.”

EPA is directing the potentially responsible corporate parties of the Superfund site in Texas to take immediate action to address damage to the protective cap. Initial repairs will begin shortly at the damaged areas where the protective rock was missing. Upon completion, EPA will inspect the final repair. 

EPA has directed both International Paper and Industrial Maintenance Corporation, the potentially responsible parties for the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site in Harris County, to take steps to ensure that the exposed waste material is isolated and securely covered.  The dioxin in the waste material does not dissolve easily in water, but it can migrate further out into the surrounding sediments. 

The potentially responsible parties conducted similar repairs in December 2015 and September 2017.

The waste pits were discovered by the government in 2005 when they found that highly-toxic paper mill waste had been deposited along the San Jacinto River near the I-10 Bridge during the 1960s.  The pits became partially submerged in the river over time.  The EPA named the pits a Superfund site in 2008 and the companies responsible for the waste were ordered to put a temporary cap over it in 2011.

After years of complaints from local residents and local officials, the EPA this past October ordered that the toxic chemicals at the site be removed at the expense of the responsible parties.  The plan approved by the EPA will require removal of about 212,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals in existence.  The plan includes engineering controls to ensure that no chemicals are released during this process and that the contaminated material will be put into a secure, stable, inland permitted facility.

Young and many other local officials and residents have warned for years that the cap was insufficient to protect the river.  Hurricane Harvey proved the cap’s vulnerability to flooding and storms when EPA divers found damage afterwards.  The EPA found that one of its samples showed dioxins at 70,000 ng/kg. Immediate repairs to the cap were ordered by the EPA following Hurricane Harvey.

Look for more coverage in Sunday's Baytown Sun.

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