County OKs seafood study near Waste Pits

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Alex Stuckey

High lev­els of can­cer-caus­ing dioxin found near the San Jac­into Waste Pits in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey have Har­ris County of­fi­cials con­cerned about the safety of seafood caught in the area.

So Tues­day, the County Com­mis­sion­ers Court ap­proved an agree­ment for test­ing in a 5-mile ra­dius of the Su­per­fund site.

“Ev­ery­thing has changed since Har­vey,” said David Walden, chief of staff for County Com­mis­sioner Jack Mor­man. “The caps failed at the waste pits, they’re leak­ing dioxin ... It’s prob­a­bly a good time to start test­ing things.”

In Septem­ber, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency con­firmed that a con­crete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak dur­ing Har­vey’s floods. Agency of­fi­cials found dioxin in sed­i­ment near the pit at a level more than 2,000 times the EPA stan­dard for cleanup.

Two weeks later, EPA of­fi­cials an­nounced they would per­ma­nently re­move tons of tox­ics from the waste pits.

That process, how­ever, will take years. In the mean­time, county of­fi­cials be­lieve res­i­dents should know what they’re con­sum­ing.

“Peo­ple need to know what ex­actly they’re catch­ing, how much they can con­sume and what’s dan­ger­ous and what isn’t,” Walden said.

The test­ing, ex­pected to cost $250,000, will be funded from a set­tle­ment agree­ment over the waste pits, which decades ago were used by in­dus­trial pa­per mills to dis­pose of waste, in­clud­ing highly toxic diox­ins.

The Galve­ston Bay Foun­da­tion is charged with find­ing a con­trac­tor to con­duct the test­ing, which will con­sist of col­lect­ing and an­a­lyz­ing sed­i­ment sam­ples and 2040 fish and crab tis­sue sam­ples in a 5-mile ra­dius of the pits, in the San Jac­into River and the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel.

“The last large, com­pre­hen­sive round of fish and crab tis­sue sam­pling from the San Jac­into River and Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel was com­pleted by (the Depart­ment of State Health Ser­vices) in July 2011,” ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion’s test­ing pro­posal.

Ad­di­tional test­ing in 2012 only tested for dioxin in four lo­ca­tions, and no sam­ples were taken in the San Jac­into River in the vicin­ity of the pits, the pro­posal adds.

Scott Jones, the foun­da­tion’s di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy, said they ex­pect the test­ing to be com­pleted within a year.

The foun­da­tion wants to look at whether dioxin lev­els in the fish and crab are high enough to be a safety con­cern and whether the waste pits are the main source.

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