HIGHLANDS – On the eve of a trial that Harris County is pursuing against the companies that are responsible for the toxic waste pits in the San Jacinto River, environmental activist Jackie Young chose to hold a public forum to review the status of remediation efforts, and to push for more involvement from the community in government efforts to clean-up the river and the environment in general.
Young is vitally interested in this issue, because her family lived in Highlands for years, and suffered serious health issues which finally were blamed on toxins in their well water.
Now she works with Texans Together and the San Jacinto River Coalition, to educate the public and lobby for more government effort to clean up the environment.
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by about seventy-five people, at the community center. On hand were many residents of the area that had experienced health problems and were seeking answers and help to deal with them. There was also a contingent of private lawyers, talking with people about their situations, and looking for potential clients.
Young explained to the audience that there are “No Quick Fixes” and that environmental suites and clean-ups take many years, and move slowly. She said there are three processes in progress to alleviate the waste pits: an EPA study for the best way to clean up the site; a lawsuit by Harris County to assess damages, pay for clean-up, and recompense some parties; and private lawsuits, for aggrieved parties to seek compensation for their suffering.
Also present at the meeting was Lisa Gossett, a teacher at U of H Clear Lake, acting as a private citizen to monitor and advise on the waste pits.
Young explained that the lead agency was the EPA, and they had delayed the final report on remediation from September 2014 to April 2015, and asked the Corps of Engineers to make further studies of conditions in the river that might make the spread of toxins more serious. She said their recommendation would be made by mid-2015 and a final determination by the National Remedy Review Board.
Other issues discussed at the forum included whether Highlands as a community has a health problem. Young cited statistics that one health problem, multiple myeloma, usually occurs for 1 in 100,000 population, but in Highlands it is 10 in 7600, a very high rate, she said.
Also raised by Young and members of the audience was the issue of labelling Highlands and Baytown as “cancer zones” and whether the local Chamber and Baytown officials were against any major remediation efforts.
Young said that tests on her water, and her body, had indicated an unusually high rate of “heavy metals” that could lead to cancer incidents. She urged citizens to be educated on these problems, and to organize to contact officials who can legislate changes in the environment.
The audience has a number of questions and comments. Many felt that clean-up efforts were too late and too little, and perhaps not going to happen at all. Some cited previous superfund sites in the Highlands area, that had not been cleaned up completely or properly and still pose a threat.
Resident Sam Sledge got angry, telling Young that the site she is working to clean up is not as dangerous as the site on the south side of I-10, near or under the Southwest Shipyard. When he failed to get a satisfactory answer, he stormed out of the meeting.
Others wanted to know if the responsible parties would pay residents who are already sick, or even pay for relocation. Young cited the Love Canal project, where the responsible parties paid to relocate 800 families away from the toxins. But she said no promises have been made here.
The county trial will commence on Oct. 6 and she promised to report on results, and plans to attend all sessions.
She said the community should support the San Jacinto River Coalition, and stated that the next meeting would be Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 6:30 pm at Four Corners BBQ on Decker Drive at the I-10 off ramp. She urged citizens to keep up with the situation on the TexansTogether website, or on Facebook for the San Jacinto River Coalition. And be involved and active.