Providing a video update on both the San Jacinto River and Jones Road Superfund sites, Jacquelyn Young-Medcalf, Texas Health and Environment Alliance executive director, said work continues on both despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As someone that is regularly concerned about the contaminants in our environment, I have wondered what is going on in our world today and how it is impacting the cleanup of the superfund sites in our area,” Young-Medcalf said.
For the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, Young-Medcalf said she was concerned about the ability of construction crews to work on the site as well as the engineering firm and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to work on the design phase to remediate the waste pits.
“We critically need this to move forward to get to construction sooner rather than later,” she said.
Young-Medcalf said within the last few weeks, she has been in communication with the regional project manager for the waste pits.
“I asked him how this is impacting the current work going on at the site and how this impacts work on the remedial design?” she said. “The remedial project manager let me know the crews are able to continue to work on site. They are currently making repairs from damage that occurred from (Tropical Storm) Imelda.”
Young-Medcalf said many had observed work going on in the northern area of the site.
“What I have been told is that this work is taking place just beyond the temporary cap in the river channel,” Young-Medcalf said. “There was severe erosion during Imelda, and they are building up the river bottom to protect the actual pit itself.”
Young-Medcalf added since there are restrictions on public gatherings, the responsible parties’ contractors submitted an additional component to the EPA for a health and safety plan.
“The EPA has approved the addition to the plan and they are actively taking steps on-site to protect their workers from floods or getting COVID-19,” Young-Medcalf said.
Young-Medcalf also said the EPA and responsible parties’ contractors are working on the design for the site’s remediation.
“This is critical,” she said. “None of us want this site to be in the river longer than it has to be. I was deeply concerned the restriction on public gatherings would impact this design.”
The Region 6 EPA personnel are working at home on the design, she said.
Young-Medcalf gave an update on the Community Advisory Committee meeting she attended in February about the waste pits.
“At the meeting, I received an enormous amount of updates from the agency,” she said. “One update was about their plan to host a meeting in May to bring a lot of information we learned to the public. I assume that meeting will now not take place. However, I have been in communication with Region 6 to see even in difficult times how we can still bring this information to the public. We are getting to the point where the agency and responsible parties’ contractors are finally in on how they think they can best move forward on the design for the remediation.”
Young-Medcalf also touched on the Jones Road Ground Water Plume site. This is the former Bell Dry Cleaners, located within the Cypress Shopping Center at 11600 Jones Road. Hazardous substances present at the Site include tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, and related breakdown products, trichloroethylene, 1,2-dichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride.
“The soil vapor extraction system is still operating,” she said. “That system started operating last year to extract the gas from the sub-surface and groundwater system. My concern was is it still operating? Are they still able to perform the quality control in checking the filter and making sure the system is running at an optimum pace? They are still running the system and check the filters to make sure they are not at capacity. I wanted to make sure the checks and balances were still in place during these difficult times, and I sense they, in fact, are.”
Young-Medcalf said they are also going through the air data.
“We are greatly concerned about the ambient air quality and the indoor air quality of the nearby shopping center,” she said. “We are filing a Freedom of Information request to look at more data, and hopefully, in the coming months, we will have a thorough understanding of what is going on at that site outside and inside of the building and if there is a threat to public health and the environment.”
Young-Medcalf said the EPA told her there is no threat in the shopping center since in the first three units, a vapor extraction system was installed.
“But in at least one unit, part of that system has been dismantled,” she said. “We are greatly concerned and taking time to do our due diligence and going through data and records. And we are making sure people are protected from harmful contaminants that are coming up from the ground and subsurface.”
Young-Medcalf also said THEA’s Clean Mud for Bugs fundraiser had been postponed until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.