Or­der to clean up waste pits hailed

Res­i­dents and ac­tivists praise EPA’s de­ci­sion to take ac­tion on San Jac­into River dioxin site

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Alex Stuckey

Since mov­ing to the High­lands more than three decades ago, Doyce and Rae Bobo have watched their neigh­bors die one af­ter an­other.

The Bo­bos don’t think these deaths are from old age or nat­u­ral causes. In fact, they’re pretty sure it’s re­lated to the can­cer­caus­ing diox­ins in the San Jac­into Waste Pits not far from their home.

And now that they both have can­cer, they’re left won­der­ing when they might be next.

“If (dioxin) is in my drink­ing wa­ter, and I’ve been told that it is, how much wa­ter did I con­sume?” Doyce Bobo said Thurs­day. “How much dioxin did I con­sume?”

De­spite their con­cerns, the cou­ple was among a group of res­i­dents and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates who gath­ered for a Thurs­day news con­fer­ence to cel­e­brate the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s de­ci­sion to per­ma­nently re­move tons of tox­ics from the waste pits — a Su­per­fund site that was heav­ily flooded and be­gan leak­ing dioxin into the river af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Stand­ing out­side the waste pits Thurs­day, the group popped bot­tles of cham­pagne and sparkling cider, prais­ing what they called a “vic­tory” for the area.

“This is the most im­por­tant sin­gle de­ci­sion the United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has ever made with re­spect to Hous­ton-Har­ris County,” said Ter­ence O’Rourke, a spe­cial as­sis­tant at the Har­ris County At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. “When the work is done, it will lit­er­ally lib­er­ate the peo­ple here and in the Galve­ston Bay.”

The de­ci­sion comes only two weeks af­ter the EPA con­firmed that a con­crete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak dur­ing Har­vey’s floods. An EPA dive team found dioxin in

sed­i­ment near the pit in a con­cen­tra­tion of more than 70,000 nanograms of dioxin per kilo­gram of soil — more than 2,300 times the EPA stan­dard for cleanup.

The ex­tent of dam­age caused by that re­lease re­mains un­known. But flood­ing of the Su­per­fund site prompted EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt to visit the area and move up a de­ci­sion on the pro­posed cleanup plan that had been pend­ing for about a year. The es­ti­mated cost is $115 mil­lion, the EPA an­nounced.

Scott Jones, direc­tor of ad­vo­cacy for the Galve­ston Bay Foun­da­tion, said he’s elated with the de­ci­sion.

“We don’t need this threat any­more,” he said. “Re­moval was the only op­tion.”

Jones added that he ex­pected the cleanup would not be­gin for an­other two years but was hope­ful the par­ties re­spon­si­ble for the pits will work with the EPA to get the job done.

That may not be what hap­pens, how­ever. A spokesman for McGinnes In­dus­trial Main­te­nance, one com­pany re­spon­si­ble for the cleanup, an­nounced Wed­nes­day that it will op­pose re­moval.

If the com­pa­nies do not co­op­er­ate, Jones said, the EPA should move for­ward with the cleanup and seek resti­tu­tion later.

Of­fi­cials soon will be­gin the process of fa­cil­i­tat­ing a set­tle­ment with the po­ten­tially re­spon­si­ble par­ties, ac­cord­ing to an agency news re­lease.

Those par­ties will have about two months to pro­vide a “good-faith of­fer” to fi­nance or con­duct the cleanup and re­im­burse the agency for all of its ex­penses to date. This plan must be signed off on by the EPA and the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice. It also needs ju­di­cial ap­proval, ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease.

“If a timely set­tle­ment can­not be reached, EPA may take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion at the site,” the re­lease stated, which could in­clude “civil lit­i­ga­tion against the re­cip­i­ents to re­quire com­pli­ance.”

The Bo­bos are in­cred­i­bly happy that cleanup is on the hori­zon, mostly for their grand­kids’ sake.

“This is for the younger gen­er­a­tion,” Doyce Bobo said. “When this is over with, we’ll have young peo­ple that have a safe en­vi­ron­ment.”

Michael Wyke

Scott Jones, direc­tor of ad­vo­cacy for the Galve­ston Bay Foun­da­tion, and Jackie Young with the Texas Health and En­vi­ron­ment Al­liance pop bot­tles of cham­pagne be­fore the start of a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day at the San Jac­into River Waste Pits.

Michael Wyke

Ter­ence O’Rourke with the Har­ris County At­tor­ney’s Of­fice said the EPA’s de­ci­sion to clean up the San Jac­into Waste Pits was the “most im­por­tant” it has ever made for the Hous­ton area.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.