EPA gets community thoughts on toxic waste pit removal from San Jacinto River

This summer, the EPA announced a proposal to require the full removal of a SuperFund site containing dioxin waste in the San Jacinto River. On Thursday, a public hearing was held for community members to comment on the proposed processes.

Hundreds of residents and concerned community members gathered, voicing various concerned. Several who spoke have personally battled cancer traced to dioxin.

"It's been proven and shown to me that my [ground] well has dioxin in it," said Doyle Bobo, a Highlands resident who has battled cancer alongside his wife. "I didn't put it there, and the closest place is right there at that pit."

Angela LeMay, who also had her well water tested, said that "after the test the water, compared to a bottle of water, was black and that scared me so bad that we don't drink tap water at all."

The fight by some resident to remove the waste pit has been ongoing for several years. Most who support the removal contend the thousands of truck-tons of dioxin waste sitting in the San Jacinto River are the reason for local rise in cancer cases.

Others attending the hearing feel the risks of a full removal are too great, including Bobby Petty who said his, "biggest fear with the EPA's plan which is to dig a hole and haul away, is that while this toxic stuff is exposed we have to worry about the winds that will carry it into our schools and into her neighborhoods, we also to worry about a flood."

During the 60 day public comment period, the EPA will take all comments into consideration as they develop a finalized proposal.

"After we get public comment will make a final decision, which will happen hopefully in early 2017," explained Carl Edmund, the Director of the Superfund Program for EPA Reg 6, "which will have a response to all the comments that we received. Then the statute allows for the potential the responsible parties to negotiate a settlement to clean up the site."

The EPA proposal requires the cleanup project be funded by the companies considered responsible for the dump site. It will not be paid for with tax dollars.

After the specific plan is selected, the EPA still has to design the actual logistics. Edmund says it will likely take years before removal would begin.

The EPA is confident full removal is the right choice, with Edmund saying they "have done this fix in many different sites across Texas and other states."

The EPA's public comment period goes through November 28th.

In attendance alongside residents were numerous environmental groups and several public officials, including Harris County Attorneys Vince Ryan and Rock Owens, as well as Congressman Gene Green.

Those who couldn't attend the public hearing can submit their comments online at www.epa.gov/tx/forms/sjrwp-comments, by email to the EPA at R6_San_Jacinto_Waste_Pits_Comments@epa.gov,or by mail to Remedial Project Manager U.S., EPA Region 6, 1445 Ross Avenue (6SF-RA), Dallas Texas 75202.

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