Congratulations to the San Jacinto River Coalition of Houston, Texas and residents who live near the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund Site for convincing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)that the only acceptable solution to address the dioxin contaminated paper mill sludge waste in the pits was to dig it up and take it out! At the end of September, the EPA agreed after more than 6 years of controversy and analysis, to remove about 202,000 cubic yards of toxic waste from the site at a cost of approximately $97 million. The decision is not yet final as the agency is holding a 60 day comment period.
This site is located on 20 acres of abandoned land along the San Jacinto River that runs just east of the city of Houston. Sludge waste from pulp and paper mill production at nearby International Paper and before them Champion Paper was dumped at this site during the 1960s and has been leaching from the waste pits into the river ever since. A large portion of this property is continually underwater from the San Jacinto River causing dioxin contaminated sediment to come into direct to contact with the river water. Dioxin levels as high as 46,000 parts per trillion (ppt) have been found in the waste pit area. An action level of 1,000 ppt of dioxin in soil was used by the EPA to evacuate the entire town of Times Beach, MO in 1983. Dioxin is one of the most potent carcinogens ever tested and has been associated with a wide range of adverse health problems including reproductive, developmental, immunological, and endocrine effects in both animals and humans.
The San Jacinto River Coalition formed in 2010 to address the contamination coming from the Waste Pits and to push EPA for complete removal of the contamination. EPA was inclined to leave the waste in place which made absolutely no sense to anyone who lived in the area as local residents watched the river routinely submerse the waste completely. A major concern has been dioxin leaching into the river because so many people fish the river and continue to do so even though the state has issued a fish advisory warning people not to eat the fish. For many local residents, fishing in the river is a main source of food.
Jackie Young, director of the San Jacinto River Coalition was elated at the agency’s decision and was quoted in the Houston Press saying: “Leaving the waste in the river is unacceptable…This decision shows that the EPA is taking a firm stand based on the science and engineering and what the community has called for.” Sometimes the little guy does win. For more information, http://www.sanjacintorverwastepits.com/ and https://www.epa.gov/tx/sjrwp