Is the San Jacinto dioxin dump too dangerous to clean up?

- In the community called Highlands, you can see it on their faces.

Folks who've been sick and tired for far too long.

"We have the most deadly chemical known to man in our water. It doesn't matter how much is in there. It's in there and it's in a level that's killing all of us," said former resident Pam Banta, holding a glass of fluid in the air at a public meeting.

For years they've blamed a man-made molecule -  2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin - a chemical commonly considered among the most toxic on earth.

More than a half century ago the Dioxin waste was dumped by the ton into pits and then deserted along the San Jacinto River where it was openly exposed to decades of flooding and powerful storms.

It is a gigantic pile of poison imbedded in the worst possible place - at the mouth a river on the cusp of a fertile Bay.

"If we are interested in protecting the community health and property of our residents. We should clean that site up. It's a no brainer," said Dr. Sam Brody who specializes in beach and shoreline research at Texas A&M-Galveston.

Much of the dump and the waste within it, is now submerged beneath water constantly flowing south to the seafood producing Gulf.

A particle of Dioxin much smaller than the tip of a pen is more than enough to trigger a fatal disease in human beings. There's more than a half billion pounds of the contaminated material buried in the waste pits.

After years of scientific study and desperate pleas from the public, the EPA recently announced plans for a complete cleanup of the Superfund site, a decision applauded by almost everyone except Dr. Tim Barber.

"When you are trying to remove a waste pit from a river there's lots of things that can go wrong that are not predicted," said Barber.

Hired by the clandestine group known as "Keep it Capped" the marine scientist believes the painstaking process of digging out the Dioxin waste and hauling it away in thousands of loads presents a genuine danger to both people and the environment they live in.

"When you have something that has been isolated from the environment for 40 or 50 years you are peeling it back and it's wide open to the environment. Concentrations there are much higher than anything we have seen in in the environment. What if something happens? What if there is a storm right when that happens? The catastrophic component is what really concerns me," said Barber.

Better and safer, says Barber, to leave the Dioxin where it is and then bury it beneath three feet of solid concrete - a permanent tomb for an environmental menace that will remain deadly for seven more centuries.

"Will you have a monument to the industrial age when people were not as sensitive to proper disposal techniques? Yes," he concedes.

But many who fought for a clean-up are calling Barber's recommendation a "scare tactic" and believe cutting edge engineering techniques will keep more than 99 percent of the Dioxin waste from escaping.

"They are going to isolate the river from the site by building berms or dams. You basically isolate it, using best management practices, than you remove it," said Scott Jones of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

And if ask most people in Highlands it's a risk they are willing to take.

They see the Dioxin dump as a relentless tumor tormenting their community and they want the cancer cut out.

The EPA’s public comment period on the proposed clean-up remedy continues through November.

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