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EPA updates community on Waste Pits dioxin sampling, cap repairs

WORK BARGE has been in the San Jacinto River for several weeks, operating day and night to repair the textile membrane and rock cover over the cap, and replace material that eroded in the channel during the flood from Hurricane Harvey.

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.

EPA’s John Meyer, Chief, Superfund Remedial Branch, made a presentation to a full house last Monday night at the Highlands Community Center.

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.

The major affect that the flooding had was erosion of the rock cover, exposure of the textile lining, and the “scouring” of the river bed on the east edge to a depth of 10 feet. However, Meyer said, only one sample site exceeded allowable tolerances, and no dioxin leaks were detected in the river water.

Meyer said that a total of 6500 square feet were repaired on the cap surface, and 200 square feet below waterline. Repairs were also required on cameras and fences.

An area outside the cap, in the river channel, also required repair to keep the cap from slipping into the channel. New geotextile was installed, with a rock cover 3 to 8 feet thick. Meyer showed a map of these areas, and a cross section drawing of how the rock fill would stabilize the cap.

Meyer reviewed a Path to Clean-up, and a timeline. He said the whole process will take 2 to 2-1/2 years, including Remedial Design, negotiations with the Responsible Parties, a request for an from the PRP to conduct the cleanup, and another 6 to 12 months of negotiations.

A Question and Answer period followed, with about 25 attendees asking for information.

It was noted that a large contingent from Galveston had attended, concerned about toxic releases that would travel down the bay and pollute their water quality, and also about environment problem sites in their vicinity. They strongly requested that EPA hold a public meeting in Galveston to address some of these concerns.

Several of the questions stated that the public wants the schedule shortened, and some work started now. Meyer assured them that with EPA director Scott Pruitt directly involved, including his site visit on September 15, that as much attention and effort as possible was being exerted on the timeline.

Scott Jones of the Galveston Bay Foundation made one of the most notable remarks of the meeting, stating “the next storm could be worse than Harvey,” emphasizing the need for a quick resolution.