EPA RE­MOVES WASTE FROM TEXAS TOXIC SITES AFTER HAR­VEY

Agency also has not given any de­tails on health threat, if any.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Michael Biesecker

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency says it has re­cov­ered 517 con­tain­ers of “uniden­ti­fied, po­ten­tially haz­ardous ma­te­rial” from highly con­tam­i­nated toxic waste sites in Texas that flooded last month dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

The agency has not pro­vided de­tails about which Su­per­fund sites the ma­te­rial came from, why the con­tam­i­nants at is­sue have not been iden­ti­fied and whether there’s a threat to hu­man health.

The one-sen­tence dis­clo­sure about the 517 con­tain­ers was made Fri­day night deep within a me­dia re­lease from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency sum­ma­riz­ing the govern­ment’s re­sponse to the dev­as­tat­ing storm.

At least seven Su­per­fund sites in and around Hous­ton were flooded in the days after Har­vey’s record-shat­ter­ing rains stopped. As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists sur­veyed the flooded sites by boat, ve­hi­cle and on foot. The EPA said at the time that its per­son­nel had been un­able to reach the sites, though they sur­veyed the lo­ca­tions us­ing aerial pho­tos.

The U.S. govern­ment also re­ceived re­ports of three spills at the U.S. Oil Re­cov­ery Su­per­fund site, a for­mer pe­tro­leum waste pro­cess­ing plant out­side Hous­ton con­tam­i­nated with a dan­ger­ous brew of cancer-caus­ing chem­i­cals.

Records ob­tained by the AP from the U.S. Coast Guard showed work­ers at the site called a fed­eral hot­line to report spills of un­known ma­te­ri­als in un­known amounts. Lo­cal pol­lu­tion con­trol of­fi­cials pho­tographed three large tanks used to store po­ten­tially haz­ardous waste com­pletely un­der­wa­ter on Aug. 29. The EPA later said there was no ev­i­dence nearby Vince Bayou had been im­pacted.

PRP Group, the com­pany formed to clean up the U.S. Oil Re­cov­ery site, said it does not know how much ma­te­rial leaked from the tanks, soaked into the soil or flowed into the bayou. As part of the post-storm cleanup, work­ers have vac­u­umed up 63 truck­loads of po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated stormwa­ter, to­tal­ing about 315,000 gal­lons.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether those truck­loads ac­counted for any of the 517 con­tain­ers cited in the FEMA news re­lease Fri­day. The EPA has not re­sponded to ques­tions from AP about ac­tiv­i­ties at U.S. Oil Re­cov­ery for more than a week.

About a dozen miles to the east, the San Jac­into River Waste Pits Su­per­fund site is on and around a low-ly­ing is­land that was the site of a pa­per mill in the 1960s, leav­ing be­hind dan­ger­ous lev­els of diox­ins and other long-last­ing tox­ins linked to birth de­fects and cancer. The site was com­pletely cov­ered with flood­wa­ter when the AP sur­veyed it Sept. 1.

To pre­vent con­tam­i­nated soil and sed­i­ments from be­ing washed down­river, about 16 acres of the site was cov­ered in 2011 with an “ar­mored cap” of fab­ric and rock. The cap was re­port­edly de­signed to last for up to 100 years, but it has re­quired ex­ten­sive re­pairs on at least six oc­ca­sions in re­cent years, with large sections be­com­ing dis­placed or hav­ing been washed away.

The EPA has not re­sponded to re­peated in­quiries over the past two weeks about whether its as­sess­ment has de­ter­mined whether the cap was sim­i­larly dam­aged dur­ing Har­vey.

The com­pa­nies re­spon­si­ble for clean­ing up the site, Waste Man­age­ment Inc. and In­ter­na­tional Pa­per, have said there were “a small num­ber of ar­eas where the cur­rent layer of ar­mored cap is thin­ner than re­quired.”

“There was no ev­i­dence of a re­lease from any of th­ese ar­eas,” the com­pa­nies said, adding that sed­i­ments there were sam­pled last week.

The EPA has not yet re­leased those test re­sults to the pub­lic.

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