The Galveston Bay Foundation has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the responsible companies and other stakeholders on the San Jacinto River Waste Pits since this site was placed on the Superfund list in 2008. We are calling for removal of the dioxin wastes, rather than capping.

A cap on the waste pits could fail next spring from a flood or next summer from a hurricane, leading to an uncontrolled release of dioxins. We’d face that risk every year for another 750 years, the time it will take the wastes to degrade to a safe concentration. Removal done right using modern techniques, as has been done at other sites, is much less risky than capping. We need to remove this very real risk to the bay as soon as possible, once and for all.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report did not recommend one way or the other. It certainly did not recommend capping. The corps answered 18 questions posed by the EPA and you have to read all 224 pages to get the complete story. The foundation did so.

The truth is that either “side” could take from the report statements supporting their argument. However, the foundation believes the corps’ statements that highlight the risks of an uncontrolled release from a capped waste pit trump any statements that support capping. The corps stated the uncertainty in any analysis of the long-term reliability of the cap to protect us from hurricanes and floods is very high. In other words, we can’t analyze the risk and produce accurate models to determine if capping will protect us hundreds of years into the future.

The corps report tells us the risk from a controlled removal is acceptable by comparison. The corps writes “Excavating the Western Cell in the dry and containing the rest of the site in a sheet pile wall could reduce the resuspension release of waste to 0.3 percent.” That corresponds to a release of 480 metric tons of dry solids which would contain 2 grams of dioxin. Compare that to the EPA estimation of a 29 percent loss of the dioxin from an “upgraded” cap, 80 percent of which is severely eroded during a severe hydrological event (hurricane storm surge and flood flow). That release is about 140 times the amount of dioxin lost during a controlled removal.

And if you try to further enhance a cap to try to prevent such severe erosion by doubling the thickness of the cap with rocks much larger than what is being currently used, the EPA warns that the wastes could be pushed out of the sides of the cap, which would expose the dioxins to the river and the bay. That is one more reason the EPA came to the conclusion that removal is less risky than a cap. We are thankful they did so.

See for more information on why we support removal. We urge you to do the same by writing a comment letter to EPA supporting their proposed plan by Jan. 12.

Scott Jones is the director of advocacy of the Galveston Bay Foundation.


(6) comments

Terry Singeltary

yes, please, remove the San Jacinto toxic waste pits for good, instead of capping, so our children will not have to deal with it later. Thank You Galveston Bay Foundation!

Jose' Boix

The pervasive and always present "crux of the matter;" the balance between cost and risk. Is it present cost - plus the anticipated future cost for say 100 years, 50 or 10? And what are the current versus anticipated risks for the same time span? Just like surgery; is it best to clean-cut the affecting organ or tissue? Just my thoughts!

George Croix

In '82/'83 the residents of Times Beach, Missouri, were forced to evacuate their town and be relocated after being assured that they were in deadly danger from exposure to dioxin. Many, many, millions were expended in settlements and cleanup, including that for using the abandoned town as a location for an incinerator to get rid of dioxin statewide. Safe to say a lot of bad times, tremendous expense, and worry and anguish for all involved.
Several months, then stretching to several years, after the fact came the epilogue:
" Several months after the evacuation, the American Medical Association (AMA) publicly criticized the news media for spreading unscientific information about dioxin and the health hazards associated with it. The AMA stated that there was no evidence of adverse consequences from low-level dioxin exposure. Subsequent studies of potentially exposed people from Times Beach and some other contaminated locations in Missouri have revealed no adverse health outcomes that can be directly linked to dioxin. In a study conducted by the CDC and the Missouri Division of Health, no cases of chloracne, a common symptom of acute dioxin poisoning, were observed in Times Beach residents. By May 1991, Dr. Vernon Houk, the director of the CDC’s Center for Environmental Health, had come to the same conclusion as the AMA. Although he had made the official recommendation to permanently relocate Times Beach residents in 1982, by 1991, he no longer believed that evacuation had been necessary.
The land that was once Times Beach is now Route 66 State Park."

All parties involved need to be sure to learn from the experience(s) of others, and that what is done in 2017 is actually necessary to mitigate a danger.

Jim Forsythe

December 21, 2015   
A dive team earlier this month  found a large hole in the structure meant to contain toxic waste at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site, according to an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman.
The hole was discovered Dec. 10 or Dec. 11, according to David Gray, director of external affairs for  EPA Region 6 covering Texas.  
The EPA directed the companies responsible for the waste to submit a repair plan for the protective cap that would include confirmation sampling to make sure no toxic materials were emitted through the hole in the structure, according to an EPA statement.
The waste comes from a Pasadena paper mill that 50 years ago deposited its waste along the San Jacinto River. The waste, from compounds once used to whiten paper, is highly toxic; the EPA says there is no safe level of exposure to the chemicals, which are known to cause cancer and disrupt reproductive and immune systems.
A civil lawsuit from the state and Harris County that began last year asked the companies involved, International Paper Co., McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. and Waste Management Inc., to be fined $25,000 a day dating back to the site's 1965 opening. The suit ended with two of the county's three targets agreeing to pay nearly $30 million in damages before a split jury cleared the remaining defendant of any responsibility for the toxic pollution.
Thursday, March 20, 2008   
The Environmental Protection Agency added three submerged industrial waste pits that have been contaminating the San Jacinto River with highly toxic dioxin for decades to the Superfund list of the nation's most polluted places Wednesday.
The decision comes nearly three years after state scientists linked the waste pits to high levels of dioxin in fish. The state has warned people since 1990 about the hazards of eating fish and crab caught along the Houston Ship Channel, especially north of the Lynchburg Ferry.
Dioxin, the popular name for a group of cancer-causing chemical compounds, was a standard byproduct of chemical and pesticide manufacturing and paper bleaching. It achieved notoriety in the 1970s as an ingredient in the herbicide Agent Orange, which the United States used extensively during the Vietnam War, and as one of the toxic wastes dumped at Love Canal in New York.

Jim Forsythe

Today, concentrations of dioxins are found in all humans, with higher levels commonly found in persons living in more industrialized countries
(Houston ship canal )
Dioxins enter the general population almost exclusively from ingestion of food, specifically through the consumption of fish, meat, and dairy products since dioxins are fat-soluble and readily climb the food chain.
Exposure to high levels of dioxins in humans causes a severe form of persistent acne, known as chloracne . High occupational or accidental levels of exposures to dioxins have been shown by epidemiological studies to lead to an increased risk of tumors at all sites. Other effects in humans (at high dose levels) may include:
Developmental abnormalities in the enamel of children's teeth.
Central and peripheral nervous system pathology ,Thyroid disorders
Damage to the immune systems , Endometriosis , Diabetes

Recent studies have shown that high exposure to dioxins changes the ratio of male to female births among a population such that more females are born than males.
Dioxins accumulate in food chains in a fashion similar to other chlorinated compounds (bioaccumulation). This means that even small concentrations in contaminated water can be concentrated up a food chain to dangerous levels because of the long biological half life and low water solubility of dioxins.

George Croix

Pick an expert....any isn'

Must be the same scientists working on global cooling 4 decades ago and global warming now.....

Lest we forget, water is toxic if too much is ingested....yet nobody can live long without it.
And, recall the poor rats fed about 75 human lifetimes of saccharine to 'prove' it caused cancer.....

Be careful of experts....what is not needed is another few-hundred-million buck exercise in panic then find out it was all for naught..
Needs clean up? Do it, by all means....just be as sure as possible...

Here's hoping this one is done correctly....and unemotionally......

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