Another effect of the Memorial Day weekend and early June floods: the EPA says it has had to pause some of its latest study efforts near the 1960s industrial waste pits in the San Jacinto river (shown at the top looking a bit more submerged than usual on May 31, facing north from the I-10 bridge). New rounds of sample-taking were triggered by the discovery in December that the Superfund site’s armored cap (which is made of special tarp material held down by a layer of rocks) had a 25-ft.-long hole where the rocks were missing. The EPA also notes that the damage was found within an area of the cap where no tarp was actually initially placed, in light of concerns that the rocks would slide off of it.
The EPA’s documentation asserts that filling in the gaps between the rocks with pebbles and finer material serves the same purpose as laying down tarp fabric; some fabric was nonetheless laid down in the breached spot during the repairs at the beginning of the year. More rocks were added to other places where the tarp had been exposed, or where the rock layer had thinned out, after unusually low tides in late February revealed other (smaller) holes that the regular monitoring of the site hadn’t caught. (The extent of the capped area is roughly outlined in yellow in the second photo above).
A crowded public meeting on May 25th in next-door Highlands went over some details of the agency’s recent and upcoming attempts to take more samples — as planned before multiple days of torrential rain started up. Another meeting is being scheduled for this summer as the agency finalizes the official plan to deal with the whole site in the long term.
The pits, which were uncapped while subsiding into the river for decades, are thought to be one of the sources of high levels of dioxins in the Ship Channel; dioxin contamination is a cited cause of the years-long state ban on eating more than 8 ounces per month of any fish or blue crabs (or eating any, if you’re pregnant or under 12) caught between the Lake Houston dam and the SH 146 bridge, and of specific species caught in Galveston Bay.
- Draft Community Involvement Plan and May 2016 Site Update [EPA]
- San Jacinto River Waste Pits Q&A [EPA]
- Money from waste pits lawsuit allocated [Houston Chronicle]
- Previously on Swamplot: Group Forms To Clean Up The Upper San Jacinto Before It Gets as Bad as Brays, Buffalo, Sims Bayous; How To Prepare San Jac River Stew
Photos: Swamplot inbox (top), EPA (bottom)