EPA Announces Community Meeting to Discuss San Jacinto River
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a public meeting at the Highlands Community Center to discuss the future of the San Jacinto Waste Pits, giving the public an important opportunity to speak out against a plan to leave the waste in the river permanently. The meeting, to be held on Thursday, January 30th at 6:00 pm, may be the only chance everyday citizens will get to voice their concerns directly to EPA representatives. After the recent water contamination incident in West Virginia many in the community have renewed fears over storing highly toxic pollutants near major waterways such as the San Jacinto River. Public input will be crucial to the EPA’s final decision regarding the waste pits.
The waste pits are now at a critical stage in the EPA’s Superfund process. A temporary cap was constructed to prevent further contamination and now a decision must be made whether to leave the waste there, capped on site, or move it away from the river permanently. Unfortunately the cap was poorly built and has continued leaking toxic chemicals into the river. While the Responsible Parties assured the community that it was designed to withstand a 100 Year Flood, the cap has begun to erode after less than two years and only minor weather events. Should a hurricane hit the region, scientific models show the pollution would spread much further.
The central argument being made by Waste Management and International Paper, the companies responsible for the pollution, is that the San Jacinto River is an industrial waterway and therefore the risks of continued contamination are less grave. Area residents, however, tell a different story. “This river is used by thousands of Texans every year from swimming, boating, and fishing. Just last week the city of Highlands hosted its 10th annual boat race along the river and nearly 1,000 participants and spectators showed up.” said Jackie Young, an organizer with Texans Together who grew up in the region. “It’s imperative that our neighbors in Highlands and Baytown, and anyone who loves the San Jacinto River, come out to demand that the EPA force these corporations to clean up their own mess.”
Constructed in 1964, the San Jacinto River Waste Pits sit on a 14 acre site along the river just North of Interstate 10, and filled with paper bleaching waste from a paper plant in Pasadena. Among the waste were some of the worst pollutants possible: Lead, Mercury, PCBs, and Dioxin Compounds, including the infamous Agent Orange. Due to subsidence in the soil and a change in the rivers path the pits began leaking, contaminating the river and the fish that swim in it. This led to a fishing advisory being implemented in the ‘90s that remains in place to this day.
We hope you’ll join us at the EPA meeting to make your voice heard. The San Jacinto River belongs to all of us, and we deserve a river where we can swim, boat, and fish free from health hazards posed by toxic chemicals.