At a meeting hosted by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt committed to using the full authority of the EPA to remove dioxin from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
Ryan, members of the County Attorney’s Office, and other stakeholders met Thursday with Pruitt to discuss the cleanup. Last week Pruitt signed a Record of Decision that approved a $115 million cleanup plan of the toxic site that will remove highly contaminated material and secure the less contaminated areas.
Pruitt said that the EPA would be negotiating with the responsible parties to design a remedy. If the parties fail to develop a plan acceptable to the EPA, the agency can impose a solution. “I can assure you from the EPA perspective that we are going to use every bit of jurisdiction, every tool under the statute to get this area remediated," Pruitt said.
Pruitt also said repairs will begin in about four weeks to stabilize an area on the east side of the cap that was damaged in Hurricane Harvey. EPA dive teams earlier reported collecting samples after the flooding caused by Harvey that showed that the protective cap over the waste site “had been damaged and the underlying waste material was exposed.” The EPA found that one of its samples showed dioxins at 70,000 parts per trillion; EPA’s clean up level for the site is 30 parts per trillion. Construction is expected to take about three weeks to complete, weather permitting.
"We are deeply appreciative of Administrator Pruitt's personal commitment and his visits to the site and to Houston. We want to work with him to get this site cleaned up," County Attorney Ryan said.
Pruitt met for about an hour with Ryan and representatives of the Galveston Bay Foundation, the San Jacinto River Coalition, Commissioner Jack Morman’s Office, the Port of Houston Authority and the Harris County Pollution Control Department.
The EPA decision will require the companies that deposited the waste to remove it at the companies’ cost. The approved plan would require removal of an estimated 212,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with dioxin at the I-10 bridge. The plan will ensure no chemicals are released during this process and that the contaminated material will be put into a secure, stable, inland permitted facility.
Highly-toxic paper mill waste was deposited along the river at the I-10 bridge in the 1960s and has become partially submerged in the water. The waste pits were discovered by the government in 2005. The EPA named the pits a Superfund site in 2008. Although the companies responsible for putting the waste at this site were ordered to put a temporary rock cap over it in 2011 as an interim measure, dioxin has leaked out through the years. Signs warn people not to eat fish or crabs caught near this location.
The Harris County Attorney’s Office and their outside counsel Baker Wotring LLP sued the companies involved in 2011, obtaining a $29.2 million settlement from Waste Management Inc. and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp.
Click here to read the news release from the EPA.