County OKs seafood study near Waste Pits
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.