CLOSING IN ON CLEANUP TIME AT THE SAN JACINTO WASTE PITS
The EPA, TCEQ, and the 2 companies they’re holding responsible for cleaning up the San Jacinto Waste Pits near I-10 will soon get started on the design phase of a project to remove about 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated muck from the Superfund site — reports the Chronicle’s Alex Stuckey. It’s “expected to take about 29 months,” she writes, “with the clean-up to follow.” The cooperation marks a friendly turnaround in the EPA’s relationship with the 2 companies — International Paper Co. and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance — which it thought about taking to court last year after they initially opposed the agency’s plan. Going that route, writes Stuckey, could have brought “years of litigation and cleanup delays.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of waste pits after Harvey flooding: Greg Moss
Signs have gone up around the former metal foundry site at 3617 Baer St. in the Fifth Ward indicating that a hearing is scheduled for this Thursday to get city approval for the latest rejiggering of homesites on the 35-acre tract. Developer Frank Liu of Lovett Homes, InTown Homes, and a few other local builder brands plans to put a total of 538 homes (down from 589) on the EPA-monitored property, known as the MDI Superfund Site after the last owner of the metal-casting operations, Many Diversified Interests, which shut down in the early 1990s (previously, the plants were owned by TESCO). The property, which lies just south of I-10 about 2 miles of east of downtown, was listed on the EPA’s list of priority Superfund sites in 1999, after tests showed the soil and groundwater was contaminated with lead and other hazardous metals.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE LIMITS OF EASTWARD DEVELOPMENT “With every mile moving east, you are getting nearer to Houston’s gigantic petrochemical industrial complex, along with its unpredictable environmental and public health issues, which begin just about a mile east of Eastwood (for example, look at the location of identified Superfund Sites in Harris County, . . . which gives a clear picture). This is the main reason why people in Houston, and those who can afford it, stay as much west as possible. . . . ” [Larry, commenting on Comment of the Day: What’s the Scoop on Eastwood?] Illustration: Lulu
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. . . .
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: NOT MUCH HAPPENING SOUTH OF CLEAR BROOK LANDING “. . . Beamer Road is a special case because of the Brio Superfund Site. There was a waste processing plant that had disposed of a great deal of material from various refineries by dumping it into earthen pits. That was not standard practice; this was Houston’s Love Canal. The Brio site has been contained to prevent additional seepage through the groundwater, but the pollution that’s there would be far too expensive to remediate. So yeah, unless your friend got a chunk of that sweet sweet settlement, he’s probably **** out of luck.” [TheNiche, commenting on Comment of the Day: Where the Townhomes Ain’t]
The old Bruce Elementary School on Bringhurst St. in the Fifth Ward — featured on Swamplot just last week and apparently just about ready to go up for sale — went up in flames last Friday night, reports our neighborhood correspondent. A story featured on Abc13 news says the building did suffer major damage from the flames, and makes it sound as if arson is suspected. Did any of the asbestos do its job?
Photo of former Bruce Elementary School, 713 Bringhurst St.: Vaughn Mueller
Swamplot’s new “Bottom” of the Fifth Ward correspondent Vaughn Mueller reports from the site of the old Bruce Elementary School, where a sign indicates the property is for sale. A source tells Swamplot that a few details need to be worked out before it’s “officially” on the market, but an HISD web page provides some information about the property.
The school, which was closed at the end of the spring 2007 semester, sits along Cage and Bringhurst on the I-10 feeder road, and comprises a little more than 2 blocks. Mueller reports that the new Bruce Elementary (built by a 2002 HISD bond) less than a mile away on Jensen opened its doors in the fall of 2007.
Why the move?
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State agencies have finally caught up with the chemical soup left to seep into the soil for two decades at a 3.5-acre abandoned tank farm in south Pearland, poisoning the wells of nearby residents with high levels of lead and other contaminants. Now the Camtraco Enterprises site, at 18823 Amoco Dr. — along a rail line running west of Highway 35 — is poised to become the latest addition to Texas’s Superfund registry.
Camtraco, which operated the fuel storage, blending, and distillation facility under a series of assumed names (Beaumont Chemicals, Camtraco Chemical Corp., Glycols Inc., Mondobello Chemical Services, Picos Chemical Plant, Okemah Hydrocarbons, and Southeastern Oil Company), halted work at the site in 1992. A sampling of the chemical bouquet discovered both on- and off-site from recent TCEQ efforts: arsenic, barium, chromium, lead, mercury, bis(2-ethylhexyl)adipate, bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, diethyl phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, methylene chloride, 1,4 dicholorobenzene, toluene, and tricholoroethene (TCE).
Map showing the Camtraco Enterprises site’s former features: TCEQ
IKE’S TOXIC IMPRINT “So far, regulatory officials have identified 228 sites potentially poisoned with gasoline, industrial chemicals, feces and other contaminants from Greater Houston to Lake Charles, La. But none of the reported spills is considered major, authorities said. Cmdr. Virginia Kammer, who leads the U.S. Coast Guard’s cleanup efforts along the Texas coastline, said the largest spill was about 3,000 barrels, and the responsible facility moved quickly to get the problem under control.” What about the region’s 28 Superfund sites? No word yet, but the EPA has “started to investigate.” [Houston Chronicle]
A reader who lives in the neighborhood points us to drawings and information from New Urbanist planners Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. about the firm’s designs for the former MDI Superfund site in the Fifth Ward. DPZ, of course, is most famous for the enormous small-town-sized stage-set the company designed for the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which became so popular that it was kept on and is now used as a Florida Panhandle resort named Seaside.
InTown Homes and Lovett Homes owner Frank Liu bought the MDI site — a former metal foundry and spent-catalyst “recycling” facility famously polluted with lead and several thousand chemistry sets’ worth of other toxic substances — from the EPA late last year, with promises that he’ll spend a couple of years and $6.7 million remediating the property before letting Houstonians live there. Still, 36+ acres of inner-loop land at $5 a square foot doesn’t sound like too bad a deal.
After the jump: a look at DPZ’s MDI plans, plus large grains of salt.
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One of the more fascinating EPA Superfund sites in the Houston area is a neighborhood off Jones Road just north of FM1960. Residents who had earlier appreciated how convenient it was to drop off their dry cleaning at nearby Bell Cleaners began to regret that benefit in 2002 when the TCEQ announced that the local drinking water was laced with nasty levels of dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or PCE.
That was bad. But now it’s even worse: These residents will now be prohibited from drilling their own wells to drink the local groundwater!
Coalition members said they recently learned Harris County officials would not allow anymore water wells to be drilled in the Jones Road Superfund site, which covers the Evergreen Woods and Edgewood Estates neighborhoods west of Jones Road and north of FM 1960, and some commercial properties east of Jones Road.
“We understand that Harris County is putting health concerns above everything else, but several residents out here believed they could drill another well into a deeper aquifer if they needed to, and now that is not an option,” said Jones Road Coalition board member Ron O’Farrell.
According to a Houston Chronicle story, only 124 out of approximately 400 neighborhood property owners signed up for a proposed pipeline to bring uncontaminated drinking water into the area. But now, after a Harris County order banning new wells—and the recent discovery of trace elements of vinyl chloride in existing residential wells—some residents are saying they want to re-open the signup period.
Why were they so reluctant to sign up for a supply of nontoxic water in the first place?
Coalition members said there are two primary reasons some residents are concerned about signing the agreement that would allow them to hook up to the water pipeline. One clause in that agreement requires residents to permanently cap their individually owned groundwater wells, and the other gives the state unlimited access to their property during the project and remediation effort.
“I would not mind paying a fee for the tap and paying a plumber, or whomever it takes, on my own to tap in to the pipeline as long as I don’t have to sign the agreement ad give them complete access to my land,” said Donald Haus, and Edgewood Estates resident.
Here’s another Texas tale about discovering oil on your property—only not the way you’ve probably dreamed about. Don’t we all live on top of former oil fields around here? Many of us do, but in Woodwind Lakes, a relatively recent development inside the Beltway and north of 290, some residents are living on the more toxic and unremediated spoils of a former gas processing plant. Houston Press writer Todd Spivak unearths the gooey details:
The Brookses . . . hired Klein, a licensed geologist, to take more soil and groundwater samples from their backyard. The results were chilling.
Klein found elevated levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, styrene and acetone. Total petroleum hydrocarbons were detected as high as 23,000 milligrams per kilogram — more than twice the level deemed safe by state regulators.
Worst of all: A layer of hot, oily sludge was discovered just one to four feet below the surface. Touching the sod or breathing the air likely exposed them to dangerous contamination, Klein says.
There’s real drama here, but we’re only scratching the surface: What about the strange rashes on pets, the angst over diminishing property values, the vicious feuds among neighbors? It all highlights how easy it can be to put up fancy Houston homes just about anywhere. So many tiny scandals wrapped up in this spicy story:
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