My Toxic Houston Childhood

Blogger Maritza Valle grew up in Southbend, next to the Brio Superfund site, just west of San Jacinto College’s South Campus:

I lived in a toxic waste dump when I was young.

Yes, let it sink in like the waste sank into our ground and somehow contaminated the water.

When I was young, I can’t remember how young, my mother and I moved in with Gamma, my maternal grandmother. Maybe I was about 7 because my brother was there too.  I still remember the address: 11606 South Arbor, Houston Texas 77089. It was a subdivision, pretty new, with a nice school just around the block, and our house had a back yard opposite a huge field. Every once in a while, men in weird space-suit looking outfits would come out and mess around with the ground, which concerned me because there were cows out there, and then leave. . . .


Because of the effect of the chemicals in the water, many children born and raised in the area had terrible defects, some died. I was very blessed. We moved in just before the news broke, and so ingested very little of the water, there were no negative effects on our health. We still lived in the house for a few years, until the settlement came and we were able to move somewhere else (clearly, you can’t sell your house in a neighborhood about to be closed off to humanity).  My brother, 2 cousins, and I were all given rather generous annuities to be recieved on our birthdays ages 18-21, amount depending on years lived there. I still have dreams sometimes about walking around in what became, for the last year that we lived there, a ghost town. I can’t imagine what it looks like now, it’s been surrounded by a tall fence for years.

. . . Though it was an odd time, it was by no means the great hardship for us that it was for many people. The biggest issues we had were that we had no neighbors, and relied on scores of gallon jugs, refilled at my uncle’s house from the water hose, to keep a supply of potable water. And at the time, wandering about a deserted neighborhood was, to my imagination, a great adventure.

Photo of fence surrounding former Brio Superfund Site: Scott Head [license]

46 Comment

  • Better Living Through Chemistry!

  • My heart breaks for you, Maritza, and your family. This situation should never happen.

  • I lived in nearby Sagemont and remember that area well. A good friend and her family lived in a nice home there, and then suddenly, they had to move. Those houses sat boarded up and vacant for many years. It was truly something.

  • There are other problem areas but none which have violated any EPA standards to the level that this area did. One reason to pay more to live “inside the loop” is the lack of any industrial use of the land through the years that has been covered up although of course there are some areas in the Heights apparently that would cause some to wonder what was lurking beneath the nice green grass.

    EPA standards. The standard for toxic mold remediation which the city uses with regards to complaints against landlords is that it must cover a 25 square foot contigous area. The Health Department isn’t going to force a landlord to remove walls so they are merely “asked” to remediate the obvious problem areas. Despite the fact the toxic mold remains hidden behind the walls and merely hasn’t “seeped through” yet. Although the mold spores do.

    The EPA covered the “affected land” with several feet of concrete and declared it “remediated” although of course no one will ever be allowed to live or work there again. The EPA also declared the area “contained” but some do question that and wonder how much of the contamination has been spread through the area through the water table.

    Welcome to Houston. Where the oil and chemical industries rule.

  • I remember driving thru there after most residents, but not all, had moved out. It was surreal to see a relatively new neighborhood turn into a ghost town. I remember seeing several stray cats and thinking to myself that I guess people had to leave their pets.

  • Houston Proud… It’s Worth It!

  • I recall the mess well, in fact I had an accounting professor who lived there, had his house paid off, then rented it out, as I recall I did not do well in his course. Now to get the hate mail, the Brio site was open pits filled with sludge, I wonder how anyone makes the largest investment of their life without a drive or walk about.

  • Now to get the hate mail, the Brio site was open pits filled with sludge, I wonder how anyone makes the largest investment of their life without a drive or walk about.

    The realtors probably told them they were man-made lakes which would part of a planned park for residents.

  • Oh Wow! I could see subdivisions being lost due to flooding, but never to something like this. Kind of reminds me of the movie Erin Brockovich. Just curious,does anyone know of subdivisions in the Houston area being abandoned because of flooding?

  • The entire Brownwood subdivision in Baytown was condemned due to flooding resulting from subsidence.

  • Matt Mystery, you really haven’t got a clue if you think that suburban soil toxicity is a good reason to live inside the loop. The oldest parts of the city experienced the longest duration of industrial activity prior even to the creation of the EPA, much less even an understanding of what chemical agents were toxic.
    Check out the EPA’s EnviroMapper applet for an account of all known toxic waste sites (you’ll be amazed at the number), and even then bear in mind that that information is far from complete because there’s no telling what kind of crud was being mindlessly dumped on bare earth way back when and never reported.
    The Inner Loop isn’t supplied with well water anymore, so the toxic soils below us fortunately aren’t much of a problem…but that redeeming characteristic is shared by most of the City of Houston. The municipal water supply certainly doesn’t just abruptly stop all at once at the 610 Loop.

  • What year did this happen?

  • We lived in Green Tee. We were 2 miles away from Brio. My mother used to do alot of gardening around our house. We lived there from 1977-1996. She died of a very rare form of Vasculitis that destroyed her kidneys in 1993. I have often wondered where the condition came from. Her syytem started producing too much protein which shut her kidneys down. I still remember when the men in white suits were walking around and cleaning up the site. I remeber how bad it stunk driving by the old smoke stack over there. The doctor did not know if it was environmental or some other cause. I felt so bad for the people that were affected in South Bend as well as San Jac being built right there across from that mess. I would like to know if any other prople from my old neighborhood suffered from any kidney related illnesses.

  • By the way, in reference to the comments above regarding containment…..July , 1979 the entire area was completely underwater for several days thanks to a historic flood!

  • I also lived in this neiborhood with my family. I was very young and i have two older brothers and i remeber that place always smelt bad and remeber playing outside and seeing people walking around taking samples. Now it is like a ghost town and the houses are all boarded up i went there bout 5 years ago and we went to out old house it was still boarded up and we wanted to go inside but we didnt. But we did get a nice chunk of change to pay for college and retirement. Get the money on our birthdays and every month.

  • I grew up in the neighborhood just off of 45 and Dixie Farm Rd. I am now 33 and just found out that I have a rare reproductive anomaly. The condition is set into place during early stages of development in my mothers womb. I basically was born with only half of my reproductive organs. Not far from what some of the children that were born to mothers living in that neighborhood during pregnancy!! It makes me sick to think about it!!

  • I used to live in Heritage Park, right on the other side of FM 2351. When I was younger I used to go with my mom over there to clean houses. I saw when the school closed and slowly people started moving out. I remember one of my moms clients crying because she had just bought her home and put alot of money into remodeling and upgrading and she was just devastated when she found out about the contamination. It’s just so sad to have to see all these people have to leave their homes.

  • I used to live out in Southbend as well. I was maybe 6 or 7 when my family moved there as well. I think the address was 1206 South Autumn St. The school was called Weber Elementary and shut down after 2 years. Then we were all bussed to Brookwood Elementary and then Wedgewood Elementary the next year. I remember moving out after the summer of 1993 and most of the houses were already boarded up. It was surreal riding bikes through the neighborhood with whatever friends I had left and just seeing so many abandoned houses. It was also weird to look outside my bedroom window and see the public pool being bulldozed. I still remember using the dive board at that pool when it was active and full of neighborhood kids.

  • I was born in this neighborhood, although I do not remember living there. I’m told we lived on the far edges of the community and that we never drank the water once we knew about the contamination. But many of those chemicals can be vaporized or absorbed through the skin. Around puberty I started having all kinds of vague health complaints and ten years later, at 22, I was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases. TCE has been linked to autoimmunity in several toxic waste studies and I am certain my time at Southbend is responsible for my illness today. The settlement money was nice, but it can’t get me back all of the things I have lost since falling ill. I am interested in speaking to anyone else from Southbend with any kind of health complaint, if anyone happens upon this. My story is here: and I would love to hear anyone else’s.

  • I lived down the street in Scarsdale. I remember it used to flood there all the time and most surely the toxins from Brio were in the water there. I played in the water too, catching crawfish in the flooded waters (it used to come up to the door sill of my parents house). It is surely the reason that when I was 18 I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer and have had health problems all of my life.

  • I lived in Southbend from 1983-1995. I was diagnosed with gout a few years ago, and thought it could be related to kidney disease from living there. I lived on South Oak Court. We had the biggest Vietnamese family in the neighborhood. My father was diagnosed with liver disease recently, mother has migraines, few nieces had defects, but overall we were lucky. Hopefully we dont develop anything serious in the future. Sorry to hear all of the health problems on this forum. Hope you get well. I remember going to Weber Elementary, playing in the flooded streets, playing in the baseball field near the site, swimming in the public pool…I’m gonna pray for the future health of all who lived there. Peace and love.

  • M. Le, impairment of liver function is less consistent with the symptoms of people that were exposed to the Brio site, and more consistent with symptoms of people with dioxin exposure…such as from Agent Orange. And yes, the effects can be passed to offspring.

    You might consider doing some research regarding your family history and cross-referencing your parents’ locations and activities during the war with Agent Orange spray maps to determine if this is especially likely.

    There has been compensation (albeit not very much) for U.S. citizens that have conditions that are reasonably presumed to have been the consequence of Agent Orange exposure…but I don’t know if your family might be eligible as viet kieu. You’d have to do some research on that issue, too, to find out.

  • TheNiche, my parents are from Hue which is central Vietnam. Agent orange was primarily used in South Vietnam, so I’m pretty sure they were not exposed to it. Birth defects and cancer were occurring at a high rate in our BRIO neighborhood, which most likely was due to exposure to those toxic chemicals. I researched Agent Orange years ago, and those photos of people exposed were pretty horrific. Who really knows what ailments and symptoms can occur after exposure to toxic chemicals? I just hope for the best for me and my family.

  • Hue city was spared, but Hue-Thua Thien Province had something crazy like 50% or 60% coverage by land area. Most of the province is a single interconnected watershed, so in terms of the percent of the land area of the watershed that was affected, its about as bad as anywhere else in Vietnam. There are also issues with dioxin hotspots anywhere that there had been a military installation (and other contaminants, too).

    If you’re wondering…my girlfriend’s father’s family is from a village near Hue, so I go there a lot, know the lay of the land, and am reasonably familiar with its recent history.

  • I lived off scarsdale blvd in the sageglen subdivision. I attended weber elementary from 1982 to 1985, my brother and sister attended longer. I remember the houses all boarded up…it was sad when the area including the school were torn down. Years later i hopped the gate(which im sure i shouldnt have done) and walked down what were barely discernable streets, overgrown with vegetation. It was like walking through a nuclear fall out area.
    I was glad to see that they have rebuilt weber elementary, now located off of blackhawk.

  • I grew up in this neighborhood as well. The first time we rented a home in the early 80’s and then my parents bought a home in the late 80’s. I still remember the address, 11614 South Arbor. We lived there until about a year after they shut down our school Weber Elementary.I remember right before we were forced to ride a bus to clear lake, we made a time capsule in P.E. They said they were going to bury it,I wonder if they did. My brother and I both wonder where our health will go in the next 5 to 10 years. So far, in the past 5 years,I have become allergic to so much.I can’t be around animals,I have eczema( severe at times where my skin breaks open and bleeds), we both have asthma, both are lactose intolerant as well. I’ve had my tonsils removed and my gallbladder.I can’t say for certain if any of this is related, but I’m pretty sure I will go the rest of my life always wondering if negative health problems are related to the brio superfund site.I feel for anyone who has lived here and my heart goes out to those fighting serious illnesses.

  • Finding this hit me hard. I was actually born in the neighborhood in December 1987. I am now researching documents trying to understand it more to address me and my families health issues. My mom died of pancreatic cancer in 2008 and I wonder every day how much the pollutants led to her death. I myself have bad asthma and was born with a chest defect that caused me years of pain. I would love to chat more to hear about your experience.

  • I commented earlier, but wanted to add that there is now a Facebook group called “Brio Superfund Site” for sharing info about, experiences with, and health problems because of Brio. You can find the group here:

  • I lived there from 1984-1990, from 2nd to 7th grade. I remember there being a ton of empty houses by the end. They never finished the neighborhood either, given that the problems occurred and people knew about it by the end. You’d have entire streets with 4 or 5 houses on it. My friends and I would play baseball, or football in those empty lots. We’d hit baseballs through windows of abandoned homes, and it’d be a dare to ‘go into that ghost house’ to get the ball back.

    I remember going back in 1993 or so, and the entire place was empty, boarded up. It was sad. My dad and I hopped the fence and walked back to where our house was. We were there for about 5 minutes when the police came and wanted to know what the hell we were doing. Apparently, it’d become a place for squatters.

    By 1995 the entire neighborhood was bulldozed to the ground. Now just an empty field. Yes, my dad lost a ton on that house. But we were part of that settlement that is mentioned. Paid for a small portion of my college, will pay for a tiny portion of my kids’ college. We were lucky in that I didn’t have any defects (that I know of), and my sister seems alright as well, though she had severe migranes at the time. It was a weird situation, especially for a 7-12 year old. But, I didn’t know it was “odd’ at the time. I just thought that it was cool, that I could break a window, or climb into a back yard to get a ball back, at a house that sat empty for 4 years. I thought it was “normal’.

  • My family lived at 12215 South Vale. My brother was born here. I don’t know why, but we have never saw or heard of any sort of settlement. If anyone knows someone I can contact regarding this, please let me know. I am physically sensitive to everything, and I have had strange health issues over the years, with no conclusive test results. I can only hope for the best when it comes to the future and our health. When I was a child, I had no idea what was going on. I always actively played outside in the neighborhood, and during Tropical Storm Alison (’89), I swam in the flood. I attended Weber Elementary, 1st – 3rd grade. Best wishes to all.

  • Hey kathleen i just Found out about brios. Someone was asking if they were trying to clean it up on a facebook group called people of sagemont. Search up the group im sure someone knows who you need to contact. also the newspaper might be able to help southbelt leader

  • I lived in South Bend from 89-93 and thought it was a great place to live at the time. I was In my in my twenties and most of my neighbors were too. We had block parties, barbecues and played lots of rock. I loved off South vale and it was in the back closest to the Briosite. I remember some of the workers talking about leaking drums underground and the wierd smells whe I was outside after midnight. One of the chemicals mentioned was vynyl chloride amongst the many buried there. We stayed after most of the houses were empty. I walked into the house across the street on the corner and it was full of condoms and drug paraphernalia and much more. The house was beautiful at one time but I never went back in due to dangers and arrests for garages full of stolen electronics. When the mice started taking over the houses it was time to move. Here’s a picture and you can see the two retention ponds that south vale could be extended to if a house was moved. It’s a shame the subdivision had to be destroyed. I’m still in contact with about 4 families that lived there when I did.

  • I just wanted to mention I walked the streets during the days and nights when South Bend was pretty well emptied out and it was considered a ghost town but never saw any ghosts like other websites claim for fun. Also sorry for a couple of misspelled words I didn’t catch.

  • I too lived there and am haunted by my childhood dreams of the house and street I lived on. It was bitter sweet since it was our first home and yet my last. My parents divorced and we moved around constantly. I did not know about the lawsuit for years afterward. I went to the school at Weber Elm and we never knew about the water being contaminated. My parents were not too involved with the current events because of their issues of breaking marriage. I am trying to make peace now of having no way of retrieving memories with my family. It’s like it was stolen again from me.

  • It is amazing to me that others share the same memories as I do. Our address was 11602 South Arbor. I have tons of memories from our short time (88-92) there. I started suffering health problems at around the age of 12 and they have continually gotten worse, the most destructive being an auto-immune disorder. My youngest son, who was born in 2006, was diagnosed with autism at a very early age. With no family history, I often wonder if this could be a product of South Bend.
    I too received a settlement, which covers zero of my medical cost. I really wish that had been a part of the settlement.
    I have dreams of that area from time to time, and can close my eyes and see our house, school and various people. Some memories never fade.

  • I was raised in that subdivision. I have to say I pray every day for everyone that lived their. I suffered many things from it. Starting at 16 I had cancer. I was s fighter for 5 years. I went through 6 surgery before it was over with. I’m now suffering from a lot more thing. I’m only 40 years old and unable to work due to all the health problems I am dealing with now. That little bit of money we got didn’t cover half of my medical bills. I hope that all of that Land gets cleaned up and no one else gets sick from trying to clean it up.

  • Just drove by this area yesterday. They have popped subdivisions up like it never happened.

  • My mother lived in the subdivision when she got pregnant with me up to when I was about 2 years old. I did also receive a nice settlement every year when I tuned 18 till 25 is when it was to go, but unfortunately came upon hard times and sold my remaining settlement for a lump sum when I was 22. I am now going to be 29 and right before my 27th birthday I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Upon research of how this could happen since no one in either line of my family has ever had MS, I did discover that this can be caused by environmental toxins. Minus being 4inches away from being a midget, I did get lucky not to be born with any birth defects and did not develop anything that’s going to kill me very quickly & both of my children were born in good health. I am one of the lucky ones that were born into this environment. I am looking to connect with some of the other survivors. Easiest way to do this would be facebook if anyone sees this comment my name is Brytani Ann and I live in Ohio. Because my name is so unique I’ve searched it on facebook and I am the only one in Ohio I believe. I am doing research to try to open a case since I, and I have read others, have developed terminal illnesses in adulthood which could very well be cause by this site. I would love to hear from others.

  • Now they are building a play ground in that area

  • Brio came about this way… Farm and Homes would buy up land and then bring in the home builders. At the time it was David Weekly, Ryland and KB homes. They bought this land cheap. Home owners were told they use to take old barrels and making bbq pits at that location. They (either farm and homes or the builders) put restrictions on the land. At least 2 car garage no more than 3. When they tried to sell one car garage homes it would effect the value of the homes. My family and a couple of others protested this outside the sales office. Our names hit the paper. We then received a call saying I’d stop worrying about the number of garages and start worrying about glowing in the dark. Any “open pits” were covered. Any one buying a home would look at the lots available. There was no “sludge”. All you saw was lush and green no hint of the death awaiting you. A list of possible toxic chemicals was provided when my husband went to work at a plant and signed a waiver that showed the entire list of toxic chemicals the plant had.

  • Would like to contact Maritza Valle regarding current activities at the southbend subdivision where she grew up (My Toxic Houston Childhood).

    Can you help?

  • I was 12years old the brio back then was called the Honda Hill’s I played all most every day jumping the hills I am 56years old now later on l had to go to doctor I had big sores all over my back an arm’s they gave me shots in each one I still get sores an it takes a long time for them to go away I have scars every where I played there 6or7 years there was 55 gollon drums every where if I would have known l wood have stay away l lived on sageyork an corner of hues road

  • Why are they building on the site now?!

  • Someone should check into why they are building a new subdivision there right now! Just saying

  • I moved to Sageglen in 1981 during kindergarten and went to weber all the way through 6th grade and onto Webster. We played in the ditches catching crawdads, waded through flood waters, and drank the water freely. So many friends lived in Southbend so plenty of time was spent there as well playing throughout the neighborhood on what we thought were playgrounds and neighborhood pools. During the notification process of the contamination, my mother (Chinese and unable to read English at the time) was never aware of any class action suit. I being a child, only knew we weren’t allowed to drink from the water fountains and didn’t even know what a class action suit or toxic contamination was at the time. Thus, we never signed up for it nor; received any compensation whatsoever. I remember seeing a Nutria during recess at Weber and the kids saying it was a mutant rat like Master Splinter. (LOL) We ended up moving out of state shortly after 8th grade; and I believe they shut down Weber right around then. After reading all the accounts of vague health issues; I am realizing more and more that my own health issues are pretty much parallel. This cannot be a coincidence. Does anyone know if any sort of data collection on former residents to track the health implications or is there a class action suit still available to join; or has anyone filed another considering a lot of these issues are not presenting until adulthood? My biggest concern is will these issues be passed down and affect my own child? I just don’t feel this catastrophe and crime against so many people’s health/lives that we are all still/now finding should be a “closed” case. We were oblivious kids back then without any idea of how this would affect us in our lives and well-being as adults. Any advice or information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • I worked at Southeast Memorial Hospital in the late 80’s- 90’s on the pediatric floor. It was amazing the number and conditions of the children who lived across the street in the contaminated area. The numbers of birth defects were astounding along with the cancers. It was always in the back of my mind if the hospital water was affected. I myself have developed numerous health problems. Just wondering.