FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 13, 2017

Highlands, TX – The homes of residents living near the San Jacinto Waste Pits have flooded several times over the past decades. Now the residents wonder if the flood waters carried with them dioxin and other toxins that originated from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, a Superfund site that received pulp and paper mill waste in the mid-1960s before being promptly abandoned. Rediscovered in 2005, an armored cap was constructed over the impoundments in 2011 to act as a temporary solution while the Environmental Protection Agency considered the alternatives for the Site that would best protect human health and the environment: removal of the waste or permanent containment beneath a reinforced armored cap. On Wednesday, October 11th, the EPA announced that it favors the solution supported by the vast majority of community residents and several LSLA clients. 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material will be removed for disposal from the San Jacinto River. As the EPA has stated, “The plan provides certainty to people living near the site by permanently addressing the risk posed by the contamination.”

In coordination with Jackie Young of the Texas Health and Environmental Alliance, LSLA Environmental Attorney Rodrigo Cantú helped to educate area residents about their rights to participate in the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act ) process to persuade the EPA to choose one alternative solution for the Waste Pits over another. On January 12, 2017, Cantú, representing several residents of Highlands and Baytown, TX, submitted comments to the EPA. The comments offered the following suggestions: lowering the preliminary remediation goal to less than 200 ng/kg as it would require the full removal of contaminated waste materials above a lower, more protective level; hiring an independent and objective third party to monitor all removal activities; and for the EPA to view with skepticism information put forward by groups advocating for the permanent cap as a viable alternative given the lack of transparency on the part of such groups. LSLA continues to study the final plan contained in the EPA’s Record of Decision to note what improvements have been made but generally applauds the EPA’s decision, including its commitment to the use of cofferdams during the excavation of the contaminated material as such measures, will reduce the risk of a dioxin release into the environment during removal.

Cantú’s clients can recall swimming in the San Jacinto River years ago as well as eating fish and crabs caught from it and its estuaries, including from very near the site. It was not until they began to see signs warning them that it is not safe to consume fish from the river that many became concerned. If the fish are not safe for eating, what other risks might exist? According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “…dioxin…is a known cancer-causing agent.” It can also cause “developmental problems in children, lead to reproductive and infertility problems in adults, result in miscarriages, damage the immune system, and interfere with hormones.” International Paper along with McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation, and its parent company of Waste Management are on the financial hook for the removal of this deadly toxin which is estimated to stand at $115 million.  “Lone Star Legal Aid clients and community leaders like Jackie Young have endured decades of illnesses, frustration, and setback after setback in their fight to reclaim their community’s health and safe environment. They are finally seeing justice for their community and a hope for a safer future,” says Cantú.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and also 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, such as those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org

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