Re­move toxic waste from river

Houston Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - By Lisa Gos­sett Gos­sett, J.D., chairs the en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton–Clear Lake. She writes this in her role as a vol­un­teer with the San Jac­into River Coali­tion.

As is now well-es­tab­lished, the San Jac­into River Waste Pits Su­per­fund site has been a ma­jor source of dioxin con­tam­i­na­tion in the San Jac­into River and Galve­ston Bay. The more than three-month com­ment pe­riod for the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­posal to re­move the most toxic waste has just ended. It’s time to move on this, post-haste. Con­tin­ued ef­forts to es­tab­lish a dif­fer­ent ap­proach — namely, “per­ma­nently” con­tain­ing the waste on this dy­namic river — do not de­serve sup­port. This ap­proach would present con­tin­u­ing risks of un­con­trolled re­leases that could harm our health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

We have waited long enough to clean up this mess.

In 1990, the state of Texas is­sued the first dioxin-based con­sump­tion ad­vi­sory for fish and shell­fish from the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel and Galve­ston Bay. Dioxin is a highly toxic con­tam­i­nant that is as­so­ci­ated with cancer, birth de­fects and other sig­nif­i­cant health prob­lems. De­spite years of ef­forts to re­duce known sources of dioxin, prob­lems per­sisted.

In 2005, what we now call the San Jac­into River Waste Pits Su­per­fund site was re­dis­cov­ered. In the mid-1960s, McGinnes In­dus­trial Main­te­nance Corp. dis­posed of dioxin-con­tain­ing pulp and pa­per mill wastes from Cham­pion Pa­per in pits then ad­ja­cent to the San Jac­into River. The pits were aban­doned in 1968. When re­dis­cov­ered, most of the site was sub­merged in the river or had eroded away. McGinnes (now a sub­sidiary of Waste Man­age­ment of Texas) and In­ter­na­tional Pa­per (which ac­quired Cham­pion Pa­per) be­came the “po­ten­tially re­spon­si­ble par­ties” to whom the cleanup task would fall. The Su­per­fund des­ig­na­tion be­came of­fi­cial in 2008.

In 2011, the EPA re­quired Waste Man­age­ment and In­ter­na­tional Pa­per to in­stall a tem­po­rary cap to min­i­mize con­tin­u­ing re­leases as the site was in­ves­ti­gated and a more per­ma­nent rem­edy de­ter­mined. While this was an im­prove­ment, the cap, ar­guably de­signed to with­stand a 100-year flood event, has had mul­ti­ple ma­jor main­te­nance is­sues as­so­ci­ated with much smaller storms. An ap­prox­i­mately 500 square­foot un­cov­ered area was dis­cov­ered in De­cem­ber 2015, which ex­posed the most con­tam­i­nated waste tested so far at the north­ern por­tion of the site.

The EPA’s re­cently pro­posed rem­edy calls for iso­lat­ing and re­mov­ing the most con­tam­i­nated waste ma­te­ri­als, us­ing best man­age­ment prac­tices such as raised berms and sheet pil­ing to con­trol re-sus­pen­sion of the waste dur­ing re­moval. The re­moval would be done in stages to limit the un­cov­ered area.

The pro­posed re­moval at the pits, where source waste still is con­cen­trated, is very dif­fer­ent from the ex­pe­ri­ences in the Hud­son River in New York and the Pas­saic River in New Jer­sey, where con­tam­i­na­tion had spread through the sed­i­ment in many miles of these rivers.

Con­tam­i­na­tion is most ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently ad­dressed be­fore it has dis­persed. Here, much of what will be re­moved is source waste that hasn’t yet been dis­persed down­stream. EPA’s es­ti­mate of $87 mil­lion to re­move the waste costs more than “con­tain­ment” op­tions that were con­sid­ered. How­ever, it is much less ex­pen­sive than the $2 bil­lion be­ing spent to re­move con­tam­i­nated sed­i­ment from a 40-mile stretch of the Hud­son River or the pro­jected $1.38 bil­lion to re­move con­tam­i­nated sed­i­ment in eight miles of the Pas­saic River.

Sim­i­lar con­tam­i­na­tion has been re­moved suc­cess­fully at other river and bay lo­ca­tions in the U.S. The EPA states that re­moval, its pre­ferred rem­edy, “is the only one that will re­li­ably re­sult in no cat­a­strophic fu­ture re­lease of waste ma­te­rial.” The San Jac­into River Coali­tion, for which I do vol­un­teer work, agrees. Through­out plan­ning and im­ple­men­ta­tion, there needs to be con­tin­u­ing di­a­logue on how to most ef­fec­tively re­move the waste while also min­i­miz­ing dis­rup­tions to barge traf­fic and the many other im­por­tant uses of the river. An open and con­struc­tive process for shar­ing and ad­dress­ing these con­cerns is the best way to move for­ward.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.