News Feature | October 24, 2017

Following Harvey, EPA And Industry Disagree Over Superfund Site Cleanup

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

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When Texas, among other places, was hit with Hurricane Harvey this summer, it faced numerous stormwater management and water quality issues. These issues are still being addressed and complications continue to arise.

In one of the biggest problems wrought by the storm, several Superfund sites (areas contaminated by hazardous waste) in the area were flooded, potentially bringing dangerous contaminants into source water supplies. The U.S. EPA recently allotted $115 million to clean the San Jacinto waste pits, one such Superfund site, and the decision drew praise from locals.

“This is the most important single decision the United States Environmental Protection Agency has ever made with respect to Houston-Harris County,” Terence O’Rourke, an employee of the Harris County Attorney’s Office, told the Houston Chronicle. “When the work is done it will literally liberate the people here and in the Galveston Bay.”

The funds would pay for a cleanup that includes the removal of over 200,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and the construction of temporary dams to redirect a nearby river and dry out the work area.

But not all parties were as excited by the decision. The two companies who would bear the brunt of the cleanup costs, McGinnes Industrial Maintenance and International Paper, are holding out for a cheaper solution.

“The two companies responsible for the cost of cleanup oppose the decision, preferring a cheaper option that leaves contaminated soils in place, wrapped in high-tech fabrics, covered with rock, and protected with steel pilings,” Circle of Blue reported.

The EPA is currently negotiating with the companies. If they don’t reach a compromise, the EPA can legally challenge them to follow its plan or proceed with the cleanup itself and seek reimbursement.

“International Paper respectfully disagrees with the decision by the EPA,” it said in a statement to Circle of Blue. “The company is committed to protecting public health and the environment and we believe that premeditation planning for the San Jacinto site must be rigorous, transparent and science-based and lead to engineering standards that will protect the river and the community.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Hurricane Katia," NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/