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The San Jacinto River Coalition

 

 

 

SJRC is educating and engaging citizens in East Harris County to participate in the Superfund process to clean up the toxic waste in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site. This first-time citizen input has provided a valuable new perspective in the Superfund process, which, until this project, has been dominated by government officials and the responsible parties. The coalition has greatly increased the public’s awareness of dioxin contamination and its serious health and environmental risks. 

 

Galveston Bay is one of our country’s largest and most fertile estuaries. It, unfortunately, is also one of our most contaminated. Dioxin and other toxic chemicals from upstream waste sites contaminate the Bay's famous seafood. Health authorities have warned people since the early 1990s to avoid eating the seafood because of dioxin contamination. With Texans Together’s support, concerned citizens have come together as the San Jacinto River Coalition with the aim of cleaning up the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund Site-- the source of much of the River and Bay’s dioxin. 

Just a few years ago, only a handful of nearby residents knew of the Waste Pits’ existence or of its dangerous toxic wastes, despite its designation as a Superfund site in 2008. With seed funding from the Kirk Mitchell Environmental Law Fund in 2010, Texans Together begin educating and organizing residents. Our organizers canvassed 1500 homes, alerted residents about the site’s dangers and set up neighborhood meetings. These efforts led to Texans Together and local residents forming the San Jacinto River Coalition. The Coalition's mission is to protect public health, water resources, and Galveston Bay's precious estuary from the harmful effects of toxic waste by educating and engaging the public in the movement to persuade the EPA to fully clean up the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site.  

 

History of the San Jacinto Waste Pits

In the mid-1960's, Champion Paper contracted for McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation to dispose of its Pasadena paper mill’s paper waste sludge. McGinnis dumped these toxic wastes in impoundments on the banks of the San Jacinto River. After filling 14 acres with hundreds of thousands of tons of dioxin and other highly toxic chemicals, the companies abandoned the site. 
 
San Jacinto River Waste Pits' Disposal in the 1960's San Jacinto River Waste Pits, Aerial View

 

For forty years, the Waste Pits’ dangerous toxins drained into the San Jacinto River, which flows into Galveston Bay. By the early 1990's, the Waste Pits were permanently, partially submerged in the River because of subsidence, river movement, and hurricanes. State health authorities started obtaining alarming test findings of dioxin in Galveston Bay and its fishery. They issued a seafood health advisory that continues to this day.  In 2005, Texas Parks and Wildlife finally found the primary source of the Bay’s “astonishing levels of dioxin”: the abandoned Waste Pits. With the bi-partisan help of Congressmen Gene Green and Ted Poe, the Waste Pits were listed in 2008 as a Superfund Site on the U.S. EPA’s National Priorities List. In 2011, the EPA ordered the successor companies, International Paper and Waste Management, to temporarily remediate the site by placing a geothermal lining capped by crushed rock over the wastes. Within a year, this cap already had begun to erode. The Army Corps of Engineers investigated and found the cap was poorly designed and built by the companies. 
 
In December 2011, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed a lawsuit for $2 billion against McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Co., Waste Management Inc., and International Paper Co. The county sued for $25,000 per day beginning February 1973 to March 2008 for penalties due to the leaking waste and failure to report the leaks. The monies would have been in addition to what the companies must pay to the EPA for clean up of the site.  The trial ran from October 6, 2014 to November 13, 2014.  Two of the companies McGinnis Industrial Maintenance and Waste Management settled for $29.2 million prior to closing arguments.  The third International Paper was held not responsible for the leaking waste. Due to evidentiary rulings by the court, the Jury did not see documentation regarding the extent of the pollution problem and International Paper's earlier statements to the EPA of responsibility. The money will be split between the county and the state.  The county is considering an appeal. 
 
In early 2015, the EPA is expected to announce their selected permanent remedy for the site that the responsible companies will have to implement.  The EPA is considering a range of options, from no further action (leaving the toxic wastes capped in the River) to fully removing the toxic wastes. The San Jacinto River Coalition favors full removal of the toxic wastes because the Site is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes and tidal surges; the companies want the inexpensive remedy of leaving the wastes capped, submerged in the River.
 
 
 
 

Protecting the Community Together

It is essential that residents have a strong voice in the public hearing process, so that the EPA will enact an effective and comprehensive remediation solution and not simply the most expedient and inexpensive remedy. That is why the Coalition is engaging the residents to become informed and advocate for their health and environment.
 
Lois Gibbs, Environmental Activist; Rock Owens, Harris County Managing Attorney Environmental Division; & Vince Ryan Harris County Attorney with San Jacinto River Coalition members.  San Jacinto River Coalition Members 
                                                                                  

The San Jacinto River Coalition in Action

Before the San Jacinto Coalition was established, the public rarely attended EPA community meetings. Now the public fills meetings to capacity, seeking answers and action. Public awareness of the Superfund Site and its contamination have increased greatly. For example, the EPA held a community meeting this year at residents’ request and 200 people attended on a cold January night in Far East Harris County. Well informed, residents questioned closely the EPA and demanded full site remediation.
 
Texans Together and San Jacinto Coalition Members Canvassing in Highlands

In August  2014, Texans Together and San Jacinto River Coalition hosted a community education workshop at Lee College with guest speaker, Nobel Prize Nominee and environmental activist, Lois Gibbs.  The workshop helped educate the community on the dangers of the waste pits and effective organizing. 

Lois Gibbs at Community Workshop at Lee College, August 2, 2014

Why We Care

The Waste Pits' dioxins are some of the most toxic chemical contaminants in the world and are a known human carcinogen, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Residents have been exposed primarily to dioxins through the skin and by eating contaminated seafood. The 16,000 residents living within a 5 mile radius of the Site have an abnormally high number of cancers and other dioxin-related illnesses. Galveston Bay’s seafood remains contaminated and should not be eaten.  
 
Public Notice and Seafood Consumption Health Advisory at the site of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits

 

Submerged in the San Jacinto River, near the Texas coast, the Waste Pits are highly vulnerable to hurricanes and tidal surges. If the dioxin remains on site, then these natural forces would disperse the wastes through out residents’ lands and the waters of the River and Bay. This toxic dispersion would be an health, environmental, and financial disaster. Dr. Sam Brody, Professor of Sustainable Beaches and Shoreline at Texas A&M- Galveston, concluded in a report commissioned by the Coalition that the site was “a loaded gun” at “the most vulnerable of sites.” He strongly recommended the dioxins be fully removed from the Site before a hurricane caused a catastrophe.
 


 

SJRC in the News

The Coalition has generated extensive media coverage, bringing local, state and national attention to the Waste Pits. Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle has run widely seen editorial cartoon panels on the Waste Pits. Print media, television and radio cover regularly the Coalition and its activities. For example, in June, 2014, KHOU spoke with Jackie Young of Texans Together about the dangers of the Waste Pits. View the story here. Then in August 2014, The Observer covered SJRC's workshop with Nobel Prize Nominee Lois Gibbs, and in September 2014, Houston Press covered SJRC's rallying in front of Waste Management, Inc, For the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, Fox 26 News spoke with Jackie Young in October and in November, In November, The Houston Press spoke with Jackie regarding the trial as well. In December 2014, Fox26 covered the SJRC's and resident's concern about barge traffic stirring up sediment or damaging the caps.
 
Recently,  Dr. Sam Brody of Texas A&M released his findings on the San Jacinto Waste Pits at a Coalition press conference. In the video below, Dr. Brody compares the Waste Pits to a "loaded gun" because of the threat of dioxin dispersion from a hurricane or tidal surge. 
 

 

For a look at activities in 2014 please see: San Jacinto Coalition Year End Wrap-Up 2014

 

If you support our efforts to clean up the Waste Pits, we encourage you to sign our petition here


For more information on the San Jacinto River Coalition follow the links below:

NewsFix Houston Article: http://t.co/e8tWZdqZdO

90.1 KPFT "Connect the Dots" (June 25): http://bit.ly/TmsxQS

Houston Chronicle Editorial Cartoon: http://bit.ly/

TTEF Blog: http://bit.ly/1llofQx

KHOU Video: http://bit.ly/1veP91V

Texas Parks & Wildlife Consumption Advisory http://bit.ly/1tASRne

 



Contact Us

Texans Together Education Fund

P.O. Box 1296
Houston, Texas 77251-1296

713-782-8833

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