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Flooding threatens integrity of Waste Pits

Jackie Young (San Jacinto River Coalition) and Scott Jones (Galveston Bay Foundation) explain how the river channel can be changed in a strong weather event such as Hurricane Harvey, and damage or dislodge the waste pits.

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.

Bumpers meant to protect the I-10 bridge were damaged by Harvey.

Jones called on the EPA to test for proof that no toxins had been released, rather than just a visual inspection. Greg Groogan pointed out that the toxicity of the fish and crabs in the river had not been tested in the last five years, due to budget constraints at Texas Parks and Wildlife. Jackie Young added that testing of only sediment and water did not expose the problems that might be in the fish.

When questioned by the press about whether there had been any recent inspection of the waste pits since the flood waters had subsided, no one in the assembled group could say they had seen any inspection by foot or by boat. This is in spite of the fact that the San Jacinto Citizens Against Pollution had posted a statement this week that no toxic release had occurred according to an inspection by the contractors for the PRP.

The San Jacinto River washed out Market Street, taking a new path.