Two weeks after Harvey floodwaters rampaged the notorious Dioxin dump known as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt put his own boots on the ground and his own eyes on the problem, an inspection without precedent.
As dive teams searched for damage and evidence of leaks, EPA Administrator Pruitt spoke exclusively with FOX 26 News.
"When you have a temporary situation like this, when you take rock and put in on top of a site to secure it, you have a big enough storm, something like this, that could cause a disruption of that rock and a release could occur," said Pruitt. "We pray that it didn't happen here. That's what we are testing."
With much of the 17,000 truckloads of cancer-causing waste still submerged beneath the San Jacinto River, images captured by drone in the storm's wake offered evidence that the dump took a pounding.
Clearly troubled by the hurricane exposure, frequent flooding and gaping holes plaguing the Dioxin pits, Pruitt guaranteed quick action, but withheld, for the time, endorsing the EPA staff's recommendation of complete removal.
"Our team at Region 6, the EPA has really each year had to come in here and provide some kind of remedial effort to the site -- that's not good," added Pruitt. "You don't want that and that's absent a hurricane. So as we look to answers here, they need to be permanent, they need to provide confidence with the people of this area that it's going to be for the long haul and we fix this situation, so that anxiety goes away."
Community activists praised Pruitt's willingness to witness the threat and rapidly respond.
"He said he would expedite the decision," said Scott Jones of the Galveston Bay Foundation. "We think that's great. EPA staff has already said removal is the right course."
"As long as the waste pits stay in the river, our residents won't feel safe, especially in the storm situations that we have had recently and Administrator Pruitt made it clear, he understands that," said Jackie Young, leader of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance.