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Toxic Waste Still Being Cleaned Up One Year After Harvey

The current condition of the San Jacinto Waste Pits represents an unfortunate collision of human error and natural destruction. The waste pits are located east of Houston and were created in the 1960s when a company that would eventually become International Paper used the site to dispose of toxic sludge produced in the paper-making process. Over many years, clay placed to keep the toxic materials hidden wore away, exposing the carcinogenic contaminants to the nearby river. The site sat unnoticed until its discovery in 2005.

The EPA's Response

Eventually, the site was deemed hazardous enough to be declared a Superfund Site in 2008. This means the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the area to be pose enough of a threat to human health that it designates funds for long-term maintenance of the area. The EPA drew criticism from local media for failing to fix the problem in a timely manner. In 2016, 8 years after being declared a Superfund Site, the San Jacinto Waste Pits were barely addressed—only temporary measures were taken to clean up the site. When Hurricane Harvey arrived in Houston, the band-aids were ripped off.

Harvey’s vengeful waters ripped away temporary rocks placed to separate the pits from the water. Now, over a year after Harvey, the area has been quarantined once again. However, no real measures have been taken to clean up the site permanently. Though the EPA is continuing to monitor the area with temporary maintenance, the problem persists.

Recently, officials from the EPA have been engaging the local community to address the needs it has involving the toxic site. While we are happy to hear that they are in the process of completing the cleanup, the process has been 6 decades in the making and took the wrath of Houston’s worst natural disaster to see permanent solutions implemented.