A state senator and environmental group are calling for an investigation by the state’s environmental agency into the Halls Bayou waste pits near Hitchcock.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and the Galveston Bay Foundation both requested the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality revisit the waste pits, re-examine data and possibly collect new information about them.
The bay foundation wants the agency to sample the waste and test for new toxins after reports the area’s waste pits could contain levels of dioxin and other toxins previously unknown, said Scott Jones, director of advocacy for the foundation. The foundation is also requesting the agency test local fish and crab tissue, Jones said.
Those requests were the subject of meetings between the bay foundation and area lawmakers, as well as a letter sent by Taylor to commission Chairman Bryan Shaw. Taylor’s letter was less specific in its request, but asked the agency to “take any action necessary to ensure the safety of residents along Galveston Bay.”
On Monday, a spokeswoman for the environmental commission said the state requires regular inspections of the site and the most recent inspection received in January indicated there were no issues of concern.
The West Bay McGinnis Pits, as they’re commonly referred, are adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway between Halls Bayou and Carnacahua Lake in Hitchcock along West Bay. The collection of sludge pits stem from waste from the former Simpson Pasadena Paper Co. in Pasadena, Texas.
An investigation by Fox 26 published earlier this month revealed new allegations from a whistleblower who reportedly worked for the paper mill responsible for dumping the waste.
Kent Wood, who said he was a former engineer for the Simpson Pasadena Paper Mill, told reporter Greg Groogan that McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Co. dumped thousands of pounds of waste containing dioxin into the unlined pits from the 1960s to the 1990s, according to the Fox 26 report. The dumping did not violate any laws at the time, the report said.
The pits were closed in 1994. McGinnis representatives had repeatedly told environmental regulators the pits were safe, the news report said.
Testing commissioned by McGinnis in 2009 after Hurricane Ike revealed high levels of dioxin contamination in three ponds, the Fox 26 report said. McGinnis, a holding of Waste Management, reportedly said the material was safely contained.
The three ponds were capped, according to Taylor’s letter.
The state’s environmental agency requires McGinnis to self-inspect the pits regularly and submit an annual report, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said Monday.
“The most recent inspection report received in January 2017 indicated the site was inspected quarterly in 2016 and no issues of concern were identified,” Morrow said. “The TCEQ will continue to ensure the site is inspected and maintained.”
In his letter to the agency, Taylor asked the commission for assurances the pits are being “thoroughly inspected on a regular basis.”
Jones called for more data on the waste pits. Depending on the outcome, the foundation could consider calling for other solutions, including removing the pits, Jones said.
“I don’t want to jump the gun, but I could see us wanting them to to try another treatment rather than storing it on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway,” Jones said.