Harris County Attorney Ryan Urges EPA To Clean Up San Jacinto River Waste Pits

     Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan joined Congressman Gene Green and many local residents Thursday night to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a proposal for full removal of the dangerous waste.

     At a public hearing held by the EPA in Highlands, Ryan explained that he and his staff have been working with non-profit groups, County Commissioners and county departments and citizens for nearly eight years to rid the community of the waste pits, which contain dioxin, the most dangerous chemical known to man.

     “Keeping the dioxin under a cap would continue to endanger all communities affected by the river and Bay waters,” said Ryan, who pointed out that the cap has leaked, putting dangerous chemicals in the water and seafood.

     “Beyond the current problems, the current cap or a ‘permanent’ cap can be severely damaged if it were hit by a barge or torn open by a major storm,” warned Ryan.  “The damage that would result could pollute the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay for the next 700 years.”

     A report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated that removal using best management practices would eliminate the waste safely.  Last month, the EPA recommended a remedy that will remove about 200,000 cubic yards of the contaminated material.  Thursday’s hearing was part of the 60-day comment period.  Ryan urges everyone to make their voice heard and urge the EPA to approve the recommended cleanup plan.

     To learn how to send the EPA a comment or for more information on the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, please visit www.sanjacintoriverwastepits.com.

     Below is a transcript of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s comments at the October 20 hearing:

My name is Vince Ryan.  I am the Harris County Attorney and I want to thank the EPA and Regional Administrator Ron Curry for having this Public Meeting to receive comments on the Preferred Remedy tonight in Highlands, a community that’s been directly affected by the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site for many years.  And thank you to the many residents and others here to offer their opinions and perspectives.

 The EPA’s Preferred Remedy is the only method to ensure the residents of our County and region are protected, long-term, from the dioxin and other chemicals in this site. Significantly, this EPA proposed plan has unanimous local bi-partisan Congressional support.

 As soon as I took office almost eight years ago, my staff and I went to work helping to get this site cleaned up.  We believe that all of the 6 million people in our metropolitan area, especially those who live near the river and use both the river and Galveston Bay for commercial fishing and recreation, have the right to a clean waterway. The significance of this site in terms of Galveston Bay is monumental. We have spent countless hours working with the EPA and local community organizations like the San Jacinto River Coalition, the Texas Health and Environment Alliance and the Galveston Bay Foundation on these issues.  We have been joined in our efforts by the Harris County Flood Control District, Harris County Public Health, Pollution Control and Engineering Departments, as well as the offices of County Commissioner Precincts 2 and 4.   

 Keeping the dioxin under a cap would continue to endanger all communities affected by the river and Bay waters.  The temporary cap has failed repeatedly with a large hole discovered last December.  The maintenance and repair program that was part of the Time Critical Removal Action did not ensure containment within the cap and a sample containing a staggering level of the most dangerous dioxin was found outside the cap immediately after the hole was discovered. The cap failed.  Let me repeat myself – the cap failed.

 Beyond the current problems, the current cap or a “permanent” cap can be severely damaged if it were hit by a barge or torn open by a major storm.  The damage that would result could pollute the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay for the next 700 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analysis concludes that a strike will eventually occur.  This failure is not a matter of “if” but “when.” The potential pollution is almost too big to comprehend.  If we leave the waste in place, we could have a severely polluted river and bay for the next 7 centuries.

 My office will be submitting formal comments on behalf of Harris County and the Harris County Flood Control District with some technical points.  But tonight I want to say that we agree with the EPA’s recommendation to remove the dioxin-tainted waste from this Superfund site. 

 We have a chance to get this right and we owe this to our children, grandchildren, and the generations to follow — to leave them a safe environment, an environment free from cancer risks, with clean water where they can boat, swim and fish for seafood that they can enjoy.

 A Native American proverb says “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors.  We borrow it from our children.”  We must protect our river and bay for our children and our children’s children.

 We must remove the Dioxin.  Our future demands it.  I urge the EPA to move forward with its proposed cleanup plan.  

 

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan (left) and Congressman Gene Green (right) welcome EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry to Highlands for a hearing on the plan to clean up the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. 

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan (left) and Congressman Gene Green (right) welcome EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry to Highlands for a hearing on the plan to clean up the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.