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More Waste Pits by McGinnes IMC discovered in Galveston County

Halls Bayou (Galveston County) sludge pits. Aerial view courtesy of KRIV CH26.

McGINNES WASTE PITS HALLS BAYOU

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.

Dr. Hood says that an environmental report by a consultant, RMT environmental, made in 1992, shows high levels of Dioxin in the waste material. Hood says that Dioxin is a known carcinogen, and causes developmental problems in infants, and infertility in adults. Dioxin enters the body through consumption of fish from a contaminated source.

The State of Texas was aware of the pits and their poisonous content, Hood says. But McGinnes told them as recently as 1993 that the sludge was stored safely, and posed no harms to humans or wildlife. The Halls Bayou Sludge Pits were used from 1966 to 1994, when the mill closed. In the early 1990s, State Representative Mike Martin tried to get the dump cleaned up, and led a public campaign against their presence in the community. Groogan quotes Martin, “The idea of putting it in an open pit on the side of a bay and thinking that’s okay. I mean it’s stupid on its face.”

Environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn, well known in the environmental community, tried in 1992 to hold McGinnes responsible for dumping toxic waste without a solid waste permit, but was unsuccessful. Blackburn says it is still an issue today, and the public should demand a clean-up by the responsible authorities or companies.

In recent time, Groogan’s report says that McGinnes had the pits tested for Dioxin, and in three of the 32 found levels of Dioxin that were five times higher and more toxic than those in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

McGinnes and the state TCEQ, or Texas Commission on Environment Quality, claim that this poison is safely contained, and hasn’t leaked into the waters of Galveston Bay. But a scientist and attorney with Galveston Bay Keeper, Bruce Bodson, claims that the real danger is from a hurricane such as Ike, or a storm that would inundate the pits and allow their contents to be washed into the waterways of the Gulf. He points out that even now the Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a Dioxin consumption warning for the whole Galveston Bay system. The TDSHS advisories cover the Houston Ship Channel, the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston Dam, and all connected waterways north of the SH146 bridge. They also include Upper Galveston Bay, and Lower Galveston Bay. The Advisories are to limit eating certain High Risk and Medium Risk fish because they may contain Dioxins and PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls).

The successor company to McGinnes, Waste Management, issued this statement: “Measured levels (of Dioxin) are typical of decades-old legacy waste from that period. The facility was certified closed more that a decade ago, the material continues to be safely contained, and TCEQ confirms that the ongoing maintenance of the site continues to be appropriate.”

However, the investigative report points out that since 2010, TCEQ had not inspected the pits on-site, relying on self-inspection by McGinnes and a report submitted to them.

As environmental attorney Jim Blackburn said, “We have not seen the bad storm that is coming, and it is coming.”

— Adapted from a TV26 report by Greg Groogan.