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.