Waste Pits update; questions and comments answered
The federal EPA agency came to Highlands last Tuesday night, to keep open the communication with the community as promised by their director, Scott Pruitt. The last time this agency, responsible for the Superfund Site in the San Jacinto River, met with the public was last December.
There were no major revelations or changes from information that had been issued previously. Project managers Gary Miller, and Gary Baumgarten presented slides that were essentially the history of the waste pits and the efforts by EPA to clean them up.
On hand for the meeting were a number of officials, including Pct. 2 commissioner Jack Morman, and County Attorney Vince Ryan. Morman spoke to the crowd of about 100 persons, promising to continue a dialogue with the community, and testing of water quality.
EPA project manager Gary Miller revealed that he is retiring in 4 months, but will hand over the project to Gary Baumgarten, who was present. He was asked to give a summary of his experience, and he said he had been with EPA for 30 years, and since 1992 had primarily worked on cleaning up Superfund Sites.
Janetta Coats of the EPA said that they were working on a revised Community Involvement Plan, and local residents would be asked to participate with comments, questions, and information. She said that the EPA is committed to dialogue and collaboration with community members, and urged anyone that wanted included to contact her or sign a sheet at the meeting. Contact Coats at coats.janetta @epa.gov, or 1-800-533-3508.
HIGHLANDS – SJRC/THEA Executive Director Jackie Young announced Tuesday night, at the group’s regular monthly meeting, that the EPA has scheduled a public meeting on Tuesday, June 5th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, at the Highlands Community Center, for the purpose of informing the public of the status of the Waste Pits Superfund site, and the Settlement Agreement, and to answer questions and hear comments.
Young revealed that she had met with the EPA and others Tuesday, to get an update on EPA plans for the Waste Pits. The venue was an ad hoc group known as the Community Advisory Committee, which according to the EPA is supposed to meet regularly with a select local group interested in the Superfund Site. In fact, it has been several years since the group last met with its members.
Invited to this meeting were EPA representatives, Harris County Pollution Control, HC Attorney’s Office, MIMC (McGinnes), Galveston Bay Foundation, THEA, Texas Department of State Health Services, and Pct. 2 HC Commissioner’s office.
There were no public or media representatives invited.
Young said that at the CAC meeting, she learned that a substantial stockpile of rocks or crushed concrete, 1000 tons, used to repair damage to the cap on the waste pits, has been stored offsite but within 14 miles of the location.
Also she said that EPA announced that a key administrator, Albert Kelly, had resigned today. Kelly was the person that first visited the San Jacinto River site, and recommended to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that he visit the site and put it on the Priority list. No reason was given for his resignation, she said.
Young emphasized that despite concerns about removing the San Jacinto River site from the Priority list, which was announced several weeks ago, she was assured by EPA that this was only procedural, and due to the Settlement Agreement, the Waste Pits remediation would continue to be a top priority and move ahead. She said that EPA told her “Political Changes should NOT impact the Clean-up.”
EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Environmental activists and residents of the areas around the San Jacinto River Waste Pits praised the announcement Monday that the PRP (Potential Responsible Parties) had come to an agreement with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to start the engineering design work required to implement the ROD (Record Of Decision) that called for the removal of all of the toxic waste from the site.
The EPA press release announcement read as follows:
DALLAS – (April 9, 2018) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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. The selected cleanup action addresses the potential dangers posed by dioxin contamination at the site in Harris County, Texas.
“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.”
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 estimated cost for the remedy is $115 million, representing a reasonable value for the cost incurred.
HIGHLANDS – The EPA (U. S. Environmental Protection Agency) held a much promised Community Involvement Meeting last Monday night at the Highlands Community Center. Over 100 persons from both sides of the San Jacinto River, and as far away as Galveston, attended to hear the latest news about EPA’s decision to require the toxic material in the river to be completely removed. They were also given an opportunity at the end of the presentation to ask questions of the EPA staff present.
A slide presentation was made by John Meyer, EPA chief of the Superfund Remedial Branch. Also present were other EPA staff, including the director of Region 6 Superfund sites, Carl Edlund. Others in the room represented TCEQ, Texas public health, Harris County Health department, solid waste department, and County Attorney Rock Owen.
Topics covered by Meyer included the ROD (Record of Decision), selected remedy, future activities, river channel stabilization work, and timetables.
The major points made by Meyer were that the ROD had changed in response to the almost 7000 public comments; the criteria for toxin removal had been reduced from 200 ppt (parts per trillion) to 30 ppt, representing a much safer final environment; the design of the “dry” excavation will now include cofferdams to prevent any releases; therefore cost had increased from $97 million to $115 million, and construction time had increased from 19 months to 27 months; damage to the site from flooding after Hurricane Harvey had been evaluated, with 1000 survey points, and sampling of debris for toxins.
HIGHLANDS – About 100 persons joined elected officials and leading environmental activists last Monday night, at the Community Center, to get up to date information on the EPA final decision to remove the toxic waste from the San Jacinto River.
The meeting was hosted by Pct. 2 and Commissioner Jack Morman, and had a festive atmosphere with snacks and drinks served. This is the first public meeting after the EPA announced that the RPD or Record Of Decison had been signed, calling for the complete removal of the toxic material in the waste pits. Most of the attendees in the room had been in favor of that decision.
Officials that were present included County Attorneys Vince Ryan and Rock Owens, Bob Allen of the Harris County Pollution department, and Commissioner Morman and many of his staff.
Presentations on the status of the Superfund process were made by Jackie Young of THEA, Scott Jones of Galveston Bay Foundation, and Rodrigo Cantu of Lone Star Legal Aid. Also present and introduced was Nick Anderson, well-known cartoonist, who had an interest in environmental issues, and is working with THEA on several initiatives.
In his remarks, Attorney Vince Ryan expressed that EPA director Scott Pruitt’s site visit was a good sign of the seriousness of the EPA decision, and that they are committed to the ROD. He admonished the group to keep working on cleaning up the river. He said “The harder you work the more we can keep this on schedule.” To this end, Young asked everyone to send a letter to EPA asking for immediate action, which later in the meeting was a recurring theme of the questioning.
In her comments, Young pointed out that further negotiations with EPA had achieved a gain in the amount of material that would be removed, from 202,000 cubic yards to 212,000. Also, the standard of the pollution level to be achieved has been revised to allow for safer residual material.
At present, the removal process is expected to cost about $115 million, and would be paid for by the PRP, or Potential Resonsible Parties. In this case, it is McGinnes Industrial Material Corporation, now a division of Waste Management, and International Paper Company, who is the successor to Champion Paper Company, the mill that generated the waste.
It is expected that at least 17,000 truckloads of material would be removed from the site, and disposed of in an approved solid waste landfill. This work would commence in 2019, and continue for at least 18 months.
DALLAS (October 19, 2017) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a plan for further repairs to stabilize the riverbed near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site in Harris County, Texas that was damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Following the hurricane, EPA has been conducting an assessment of the site to determine the extent of damage caused by the storm, and the potentially responsible parties found erosion of the river bottom adjacent to the temporary armored cap. EPA directed the potentially responsible parties to stabilize a 40-foot by 400-foot area adjacent to the east side of the cap to prevent future undermining of the armored cap.The temporary armored cap has not been damaged in this area.
Since the hurricane, the survey of the San Jacinto riverbed found erosion of the river bottom up to 12 feet deep near the cap. The total area of river bottom eroded in the vicinity of the cap was over 20,000 square feet. The stabilization work approved today includes placement of a geotextile fabric layer covered with at least three feet of rock with a median diameter of eight inches. It is anticipated that construction will take about three weeks to complete, weather and tide permitting.
EPA Administrator Pruitt Commits to Dioxin Cleanup in meeting with County Attorney Vince Ryan
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 last 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.
WASHINGTON, DC – Executive Director Scott Pruitt today announced the final decision on the disposition of the toxic waste dumps in the San Jacinto River, near the I-10 bridge.
In a press release dated Wednesday, Oct. 11 the EPA said they had issued a final “Record of Decision” based on the best interests of nearby residents, local businesses, and downstream resources including the Galveston Bay estuary. The plan for complete removal of the waste material has been modified to provide cofferdams around the excavation of dry material, instead of wet material in the original plan. The cost is now estimated at $115 million instead of the previous $97 million.
The proposal includes both the Northern and the Southern impoundment areas. 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin contaminated material will be removed from the sites for proper disposal.
Local environmentalists and officials praised the decision of the EPA, including Jackie Young of THEA and the San Jacinto River Coalition. Young has led the fight for removal of the pits for a number of years, prompted by serious health problems she attributes to pollution from the waste pits.
Others who issued statements in favor of the decision included Harris County Attorneys Vince Ryan and Terry O’Rourke, Congreeman Gene Green, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman.
Jackie Young told the Star that she was pleased with the decision, but would continue to be engaged in the issue, and be a “watchdog” over the removal project.
One opponent to the decision, the “KeepItCapped” group, issued the following statement:
Statement From McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. (MIMC) Regarding the U.S. EPA’s Record of Decision
“We cannot support a plan for the site that provides less protection to all affected communities than the existing cap already has provided. We are deeply concerned that the decision announced today could result in a release to the San Jacinto River and downstream areas. We disagree with EPA’s claim that the local or downstream areas can be protected during removal. We will review U.S. EPA’s Record of Decision in its entirety.”
Here is the full text of the EPA press release, and the Final RECORD OF DECISION:
DALLAS – (Oct. 11, 2017) The cleanup plan to address highly toxic dioxin contamination at the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site in Harris County, Texas has been approved. The selected remedy will protect human health and the environment by removing highly contaminated material from the site and securing less contaminated areas. The plan provides certainty to people living near the site by permanently addressing risk posed by the contamination. It also provides certainty to other economic interests including the businesses that rely on the San Jacinto River for navigation and the Interstate-10 transportation corridor.
“Today, we are announcing our decision to ensure the San Jacinto site is cleaned up for the benefit of the entire community,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “As exemplified today, EPA is prioritizing Superfund clean-up by making decisions in a decisive, timely manner. The San Jacinto Waste Pits site was added to the National Priority List nearly a decade ago, and I am pleased to announce a decision has been made to permanently address the highly toxic materials to ensure health and safety in the surrounding communities.”
EPA’s cleanup plan includes installing engineering controls such as cofferdams before excavating almost 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin contaminated material for disposal. A small amount of material will stay on the site where controls will prevent access, eliminate off-site migration and monitor the natural recovery into the future. The estimated cost for the remedy is $115 million and is cost-effective; representing a reasonable value for the cost incurred.
EPA’s final cleanup plan, called a Record of Decision, addresses comments on the proposed plan concerning the risk of water spreading dioxin contamination downstream by installing controls such as cofferdams to allow for dry excavation of the waste material. Changes in the construction method will effectively eliminate any potential for spreading contamination to downstream areas. The $97 million proposed plan outlined wet excavation of material.
The Superfund 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 polychlorinated dibenzopdioxins (dioxins) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans). In 2011, the impoundments were covered with an armored cap as a temporary way to contain the contaminants.
EPA’s decision, fully explained in the Record of Decision, is based on extensive studies of the contamination, human health risks, and environmental risks of this site. The final cleanup plan considers the ever-changing San Jacinto River, which encroaches on the site, and protecting important downstream resources including the Galveston Bay estuary.
EPA’s selected remedy will permanently address the highly toxic dioxin waste materials, meets the federal regulatory requirements of the National Contingency Plan for cleanup of hazardous sites, and is protective of public health and the environment. EPA will release an Administrative Record, which consists of all documents used to support its selected remedy.
EPA added the San Jacinto Waste Pits site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites in 2008, after testing revealed contamination from dioxins and furans near the waste pits. The northern set of impoundments, about 14 acres in size, is located on the western bank of the San Jacinto River, north of the Interstate-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River. These northern impoundments are partially submerged in the river. The southern impoundment, less than 20 acres in size, is located on a small peninsula that extends south of the Interstate-10 bridge. EPA is the lead agency for addressing the site and cleaning up the contamination, with support from several state partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Administrative Record, including the Record of Decision, for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site is available online at: https://www.epa.gov/tx/sjrwp and at the following locations:
Stratford Branch Library
509 Stratford Street
Highlands, TX 77562
Scott Pruitt walks on site, promises “containment”
By Gilbert Hoffman
The head of the federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the person who will have the final say on how the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site is disposed of, was in East Harris County last Friday to walk across the site and learn about the conditions firsthand.
Accompanying EPA Director Scott Pruitt were officials from the EPA, both nationally and from the Dallas office, including the Region 6 Acting Head Sam Coleman. Also on hand was Fox News 26 reporter Greg Groogan, and after the walk Pruitt had an opportunity to discuss his visit with Jackie Young of THEA (Texas Health and Environmental Alliance) and Scott Jones of GBF (Galveston Bay Foundation).
Pruitt’s visit to the site was highly unusual, with EPA officials normally relying on reports and inspections from their staff and consultants.
In addition to the personnel accompanying Pruitt, there were also at least two boats with dive teams inspecting and probing the waste pits just beyond Pruitt’s presence. They were searching for breaks in the armored cap and its geotextile membrane after the Hurricane Harvey, and the subsequent flooding by the raging river. Nearby the torrent of the river had washed out two roads, making them impassable, and caused huge sinkholes in a residential area, where houses slid into the holes.
From where Pruitt stood, he could also see the damage to two large bumpers in the river that were meant to protect the I-10 bridge, but obviously had been hit and compromised.
After viewing the displaced rock cover, and in some areas exposed and dislodged membrane, Pruitt said, “When you have a temporary situation like this, when you take rock and put it on top of a site to secure it, you have a big enough storm, something like this, that could cause a disruption of that rock and a release could occur. We pray that didn’t happen here. That’s what we are testing.”
Pruitt was able to see the 1/3 of the material that is above the waterline, but 2/3 of the toxic waste remain below, with its condition of containment not really known. Days after Pruitt left the site, divers were still in the river probing the cap’s condition below the waterline.
After walking the site, and viewing the extent of the problem, Pruitt said he would take quick action, but did not indicate which “permanent solution” he favored. The EPA staff has recommended complete removal of the toxic material, which might mean as many as 17,000 truckloads hauled off the site, a project that will take over a year and cost up to $60 million dollars. However, another group (San Jacinto Citizens Against Polution) has recommended to the EPA that they build a permanent concrete cap, with administrative controls for the next 75 years.
EAST HARRIS COUNTY – The San Jacinto River Coalition, and the Galveston Bay Foundation, held a joint news conference Tuesday, Sept. 5 to call attention to the potential damage to the Waste Pits caused by Hurricane Harvey, and the subsequent flooding of the San Jacinto River.
Scott Jones of the GBF called on the EPA to make a thorough inspection of the waste pits, looking for failure of the Cap that now is meant to contain the toxic materials. He also said that EPA has had enough time to answer comments, and make a Final Decision on the method to be used to solve the problem.
Jackie Young of the SJRC said that residents along the river were fearful of returning to their homes, not knowing if any of the toxic material was on their property, in their homes or in their wells. Using a map of the river, she pointed out that it narrowed as it went past the waste pits and under the I-10 bridge. This means that the velocity and strength of the river is greater when it is necked down, and therefore the waste pits are at greater risk of dislodging.
Young pointed out that the membrane and rock cover over the pits has required repair work each year since it was placed. She raised the question of how many times the Cap would be damaged and need repair, if left their the 750 years that it would take for the material to degrade.
In an exclusive interview with the Star-Courier, the contractor for the membrane, Brett Crawford of EcoSeal Protective Coatings, said that the type of membrane installed over the Waste Pits by his company would not withstand long term use, and ultra-violet light from the sun would eventually cause pinholes and deterioration of the ability of the membrane to contain the toxic material.
Scott Jones said that after the flood from the hurricane, that the rock cover had been displaced and some of the fabric membrane had peeled back. In fact, workmen could be seen in the background of the press conference area, working on the Cap to correct these very problems.
Another waste pits site used by McGinnes Industrial Waste Corporation has come to the attention of local authorities, environmental agencies, and the media. After a TV report on the Halls Bayou Waste Pits, by Channel 26 KRIV’s Greg Groogan, State Senator Larry Taylor, and the Galveston Bay Foundation’s Scott Jones, called for an investigation into the status of the pits.
The San Jacinto Waste Pits are one site where McGinnes Industrial Waste Corporation deposited sludge from the Champion Pasadena paper mill. But there is a site along Halls Bayou (the one in Galveston County, not Harris County) near the Intercoastal Waterway, between the mainland and Galveston, where McGinnes dumped sludge after they quit using the San Jacinto river pits.
In a recent report by Greg Groogan on Channel 26 KRIV, the Galveston Bay sludge pits were investigated and presented to the public for the first time. Groogan discovered that there are 32 pits or ponds, enclosed with earth berms but open to the sky. These pits were an alternate site for waste from the Pasadena Champion paper mill, after the site on the San Jacinto River was no longer used due to capacity. They have existed here for over 40 years.
Groogan was made aware of the pits by a former chemical engineer who worked for the Simpson Pasadena Paper mill, and has knowledge of the dumping. Dr. Kent Hood told Groogan he was concerned because he believes the pits are a threat to public health. Some of the pits contain the deadly chemical Dioxin, he said.
Although McGinnes and Simpson met requirements of state law at the time, Dr. Hood feels that McGinnes should have taken more precautions to protect the public. The sludge was loaded onto barges in Pasadena, and dumped into unlined, open pits.
HARRIS COUNTY – Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Morman waded into the battle to remove the toxic waste pits from the San Jacinto River, with a two page letter to the new EPA Administrator last Friday, asking for an expedited removal of the material.
In his letter, Morman states that “As long as the dioxin pits remain in place, they create an ongoing hazard that will leach into the River and Galveston Bay. The site poses a serious threat to the health of our residents and to the environment.”
Morman referenced a new study that Pruitt commissioned, a Task Force that has made recommendations for expedited solutions to the nation’s 1330 Superfund sites. Pruitt has said that he will create a “TOP TEN” list of sites with priority to be cleaned up and reused. The list will contain sites that have been on the NPS (National Priority List) for over 5 years. Morman requested that the San Jacinto River Waste Pits be placed on that list.
Further, he said “Removal is the only remedy that resolves the contamination in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits with finality, eliminating the future costs and potential harm associated with leaving the waste in place.”
The EPA Dallas office is currently reviewing comments and technical reports, before issuing a final ROC (Record Of Decision). They plan to have this ready by the end of 2017, unless Pruitt moves to shorten the schedule.
In the Task Force report, Pruitt is quoted as saying he has a “passion to clean up the country’s worst pollution, as expeditiously and as thoroughly as possible.”
The report lists five goals for the EPA Superfund clean-up:
• Expediting Cleanup and Remediation
• Re-Invigorating Responsible Party Cleanup and Reuse
• Encouraging Private Investment
• Promoting Redevelopment and Community Revitalization
• Engaging Partners and Stakeholders.
Morman’s letter was widely distributed, going to the EPA, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, U.S. Representatives Brian Babin, Gene Green, Randy Weber, and Ted Poe. Also EPA Regional Administrator Sam Coleman, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.
The San Jacinto River Coalition and THEA, under the leadership of Jackie Young, continue the fight to have the waste pits completely removed.