Unsurprisingly, the San Jacinto Waste Pits Started Leaking During Harvey

Go figure, the San Jacinto Waste Pits did spring a leak during Hurricane Harvey, after all.
Go figure, the San Jacinto Waste Pits did spring a leak during Hurricane Harvey, after all.
Image from the EPA
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Remember when we pointed out that it seemed highly likely that the incredibly toxic, remarkably prone to leaking San Jacinto Waste Pits had indeed leaked during Hurricane Harvey?

It turns out that was a fairly safe bet, because that's exactly what happened, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The San Jacinto Waste Pits have sat on the banks of the San Jacinto River, packed full of dioxin and other toxic substances from a local paper mill, for more than 40 years. In 2011, the EPA came up with its first fix for the pits — agency workers stuck a temporary armored cap on top of the site to keep the contents from spilling into the river and the rest of the surrounding area.

But Harvey once again underscored how fragile the situation with the waste pits really is — the pits have been known to leak, as we've recently noted — and this is why it decidedly is time for the federal agency to finally settle on a long-term solution for the pits. The reason is straightforward: They are full of toxic sludge held in by a temporary cap and could leak and cause all kinds of devastation if the perfect storm were to roll up at just the wrong time. And that was before we knew for sure that the pits had once again been breached.

EPA officials had insisted repeatedly in the wake of the storm that everything was just fine at the waste pits — even as they acknowledged that EPA divers had not actually completed their inspection of the partially submerged site.

Now the EPA has come out with a different take on the state of the pits post-Harvey. EPA officials recently revealed the temporary armored cap on the waste pits was breached during the storm and samples showed 70,000 ng/kg of dioxin in areas near the pit. The EPA recommends a cleanup for anything above 30 ng/kg.

Still, they have a comforting take on what happened.

“The dioxin in the waste material does not dissolve easily in water but it can migrate further out into the surrounding sediments,” the EPA statement said. “The supplemental sampling will determine the extent, if any, of this migration."

But the main point is that once again the dioxin and other chemicals packed into the 14-acre site did not stay put during the hurricane.

It also makes for an even more compelling argument to finally remove more than 200,000 cubic yards of toxic sludge from the waste pits, as the EPA proposed last year. There's been some doubt as to whether Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator appointed by President Donald Trump, would support this option, but now there's a pretty decent argument for getting the toxins removed entirely.

The temporary cap has repeatedly proved that the one reliable thing it does is fail to hold in the toxic contents held below it. Considering what is in the waste pits, and the people that live near the site, that seems like a powerful argument in and of itself to get rid of the pits entirely.

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