WastePits update by Jackie Young

Young discusses ground water testing with some Highlands residents.
Young discusses ground water testing with some Highlands residents.

At the monthly meetings of the San Jacinto River Coalition, and related organizations, Jackie Young brought the audience up to date on testing of water quality that is underway.

Harris County Pollution Control department is conducting what it terms “Phase II” tests on previously untested wells, and director Bob Allen has said that 148 letters were sent to known well owners seeking consent to test their wells. These wells would be specifically tested for 17 contaminates know to be related to the sludge in the Waste Pits. Allen said that they know of about 15 wells on the west side of Highlands, and about 140 wells in the Channelview area that would qualify for these tests.

Young also revealed that two chickens from Lynchburg and their eggs had been tested for contaminates. Of 21 possible heavy metals that could be detected, 18 of them were present in the eggs. This suggested a serious health problem, she said, and indicated further tests of this type were necessary.

On the EPA activities related to the Superfund site, Young said that the government agency had “been very quiet” with no new information issued. She noted that they were busy reviewing the public comments that had been submitted, including 6000 individual comments, 48,000 petition signatures, and 2800 technical comments. She indicated that in spite of the change in administration at the EPA in Washington, there is no sign that it has affected the review work in Dallas related to the Waste Pits.

Young said that the final ROD, or Record Of Decision that will be the final plan for remediation, is due by the end of 2017. It will be made public at that time, and additional comments from the public will be possible.

An EPA inspection of the existing cap, made on January 23, 2017 discovered 7 deficiencies on the eastern edge, and several on the western side. It also found that the whole site had sunk, or subsided, by about a foot since the initial survey in 2015.

Young distributed a sample letter, and asked those in attendance to consider writing a similar letter to the TCEQ in Austin. The letter calls for complete removal of the waste material in the pits, and asks that the standards for how much contaminates would be acceptable to remain be lowered, so that more material would be removed. She said this would be consistent with EPA Superfund sites in 7 other locations that were remediated.

Young said that the letter would counteract the activities of the KeepItCapped organization, that has recently been writing TCEQ and EPA with technical information meant to keep the waste pits in place in the river.

She noted that an anonymous source is also using “robo” calls to residents of Crosby giving them information about the waste pit remediation that she termed “incorrect.”

Young said that she is planning on a training class sometime this summer, to teach small groups of activists how to conduct a letter writing campaign, and how to campaign door-to-door with surveys and information packages.

Young said they are also studying two other waste sites. One is the Liberty Waste site in Highlands, near the ends of Ellis School and Steele Roads. The other is known as the Halls Bayou site, in Hitchcok Galveston County, where Waste Management supposedly filled 32 pits with paper mill sludge after they quit using the San Jacinto River site.