San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that an agreement has been reached with International Paper Company and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation to perform a remedial design for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site selected remedy. 

This essentially means that the parties have agreed to the decision the EPA has made, and now they will work together on the fine details on how they are going to implement the decision.

“This agreement marks the next step in my commitment to the people of Harris County to expedite the remediation of the San Jacinto Waste Pits site,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “EPA will ensure that the remedial design removes all the contamination as quickly and safely as possible and permanently protects the health and safety of the surrounding communities and the San Jacinto River.”

Pruitt was not alone with his praise of the news. Jacqueline Young, the San Jacinto River Coalition president, was also appreciative of her agency’s work on the waste pits and for pushing the Superfund process forward.

“I am cautiously optimistic about the future of moving forward as this the first time the responsible parties publicly siding with the EPA’s big decision,” Young said. 

Young said when the Record of Decision was first signed, the responsible parties came out on record publically opposing the EPA’s decision. 

“Now, this settlement marks a change in course,” Young said. “This means the responsible parties have agreed to the Record of Decision, essentially agreeing to the decision the EPA has made. Now, they will move forward, and the EPA and responsible parties will work together on the fine details of how exactly they are going to implement this decision.” 

Rock Owens, Harris County Attorney’s Office lead environmental attorney, said the announcement marks an important step in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits cleanup.

“We have expected this announcement for some time and look forward to continuing our work with the EPA as we move towards the final goal - complete removal of the dioxin from the site,” Owens said.  

The Galveston Bay Foundation also applauded the news. In a release, the GBF said the agreement between EPA and the responsible parties means that removal of the wastes, the only safe and permanent remedy for this site, moves one step closer.

The selected cleanup action addresses the potential dangers posed by dioxin contamination at the site in Harris County.

The EPA’s cleanup plan, with support from state partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, includes installing engineering controls before excavating approximately 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material for disposal. The remedial design is estimated to take about 29 months to complete. The design work will be performed by the companies under the oversight of EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The current quarterly cap inspection and maintenance program will continue while the remedial design is being completed.

The estimated cost for the remedy is $115 million.

Jennah Durant, EPA spokeswoman, said the companies could incur more costs or less costs, based on the final design and if they find ways to conduct the removal and still meet the requirement of the Record of Decision, which was reached in October. 

EPA’s decision is based on extensive studies of the contamination, and human health and environmental risks of this site. The final cleanup plan considers the ever-changing San Jacinto River, which encroaches on the site, while protecting important downstream resources including the Galveston Bay estuary.

EPA added the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites in 2008 after testing revealed contamination from dioxins and furans near the waste pits. The site consists of two sets of impoundments, or pits, built in the mid-1960s for disposing solid and liquid pulp and paper mill wastes that are contaminated with dioxins and furans.

While the remedial design is ongoing, the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA will begin negotiations with the potential responsible parties to enter into a consent decree regarding construction of the remedy.

The San Jacinto Waste Pits site is included on EPA’s Superfund Task Force list of sites targeted for priority action. These sites require timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Young said.

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