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THEA/SJRC Zoom meeting: Waste Pits schedule extended 160 days

Map of Southern Impoundment. Colors indicate the depth below the surface at which toxic material exceeding >240 ng/kg was found. Dark Green is the worst, at 4 feet. Red indicates the material is 10 feet below the surface. Market Street south of I-10 is the street shown.

HIGHLANDS – Concerns for the Coronavirus have put a temporary end to public meetings regarding the remediation of the toxic waste pits in the San Jacinto River.

But twice this month, Jackie Young Medcalf, the director of the San Jacinto River Coalition and THEA, held ZOOM meetings on July 1 and 15, to inform the public on the status of the remediation project for the pits.

The concentration of meetings was due to the release by the EPA of the 30% RD, or Remedial Design documents. There were over 30,000 pages of data and narrative, covering the Northern and Southern impoundment areas, and the Sand Separation area.

In addition to the report, EPA confirmed that the toxic material was deeper than first thought, and that remediation would take longer than announced.

The time line has stretched from a 2 year project, to now what is expected to take 7 years to complete, according to the engineering consultant, GHD Corp. On top of that, Jackie announced in the July 15 Zoom meeting that EPA had just granted a 160 day extension to the start of the project, moving it well into the year 2028. This will likely conflict with TxDOT’s plans to replace the I-10 bridge with a higher, wider highway.

Jackie said that in examining the RD documents, she was concerned about omissions and inconsistencies. She said that there was not enough “due diligence” exhibited in the work process, nor transparency. In the health and safety section of the RD, she said it was too generic and did not address the specific problems of this site, such as barge traffic and weather extremes such as hurricanes and floods.

She also faulted the study for characterizing the toxic waste as too low a type of hazardous industrial waste, and calls for the sampling and classification to be done again. She notes that the PRP asked the consultant to omit certain test results, without explanation or reason.

In addition to the Northern Impoundment, Jackie spoke of the Sand Separation area. Although the RD calls for monitoring natural remediation, with no intervention or removal, she said that sampling had revealed “hot spots” and suggested that the area needed to be remediated like the other areas.

Jackie pointed out that the RD did not call for berms to protect the cofferdams from a barge strike, a design feature requested by Harris County. On Zoom, Carolyn Stone commented that the RD “overall had a lack of seriousness about the site.”

Jackie noted that the EPA had not only granted a 160 day extension to the consultant as requested, but also asked that the TWG (Technical Working Group) be expanded to include Harris County and the Port of Houston. It now officially includes TxDOT, the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and TCEQ.

Jackie made the following statement regarding waste characterization:

Upon our review of the 30% design for the Northern Waste Pits, multiple items raised red flags and prompted our call for integrity.

It is known that the Pits contain 2,3,7,8-TCDD in concentrations greater than 90,000 parts per trillion (ppt) yet over 75% of the samples taken for “waste characterization” contained concentrations of 2,3,7,8-TCDD below 30 ppt. This is in no way representative of the actual waste material that will be removed from the San Jacinto River and permanently disposed of. How this waste will be handled, transported, and disposed of, hinges on the waste characterization.

The Waste Pits Superfund Site has made considerable progress through the Superfund process in the last decade. Our communities want this process to keep moving forward, as the risk to public health and the environment remain as long as the Pits are in the river, however adequate work must be done now to ensure remediation is done safely and with integrity.

In the Southern Impoundment, Jackie noted that the acceptable cleanup level was >240 ng/kg, considerably lower than in the Northern Impoundment, where >30 ng/kg is the standard for material to be removed. She noted that the Southern Impoundment also had “hot sports” where dioxins had tested to 152,000 ppt (parts per trillion).

She called for new sampling to be done on all the sites, with reclassification standards for the disposal of the waste.

The schedule now calls for the Pre-final Design for the Southern Impoundment to be submitted to EPA by September 2020, and the Northern Impoundment by April 2021.

Final Design, which will allow the PRP (Potential Responsible Parties) to negotiate completion of the remediation, is scheduled for the Southern Impoundment by November 2020, but for the Northern Impoundment is listed as indefinite.

THEA’s next Zoom meeting is scheduled in two months, but recorded sessions are available on YouTube, and THEA’s blog on their website,