EPA Chooses Removal for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits

On October 11, 2017, the EPA issued its Record of Decision (“ROD”) selecting the remedy for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site in Harris County, Texas.

The proposed remedy calls for excavation and off-site disposal of source materials and contaminated soils from impoundments in and adjacent to the San Jacinto River.  The proposed remedy will involve the removal of approximately 162,000 yds. of waste material.  It will take an estimated 13,300 truck trips to transport the waste to a permitted disposal facility.

Impoundments Built in the 1960s

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits are a set of impoundments built in the 1960’s to contain liquid pulp and paper mill waste.  The impoundments are near the I-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River, and portions of some of the impoundments are now submerged.

Opposition to the Proposed Remedy

The ROD includes summaries and responses to numerous comments regarding the selected remedy.  Several commentators, including the companies who will have to pay to implement the remedy, vigorously opposed the EPA’s selected remedy.  These commentators generally preferred an alternative discussed in the ROD that would maintain the existing caps of the material and strengthen their long-term durability.

The negative comments accused the EPA of “hand waving to dismiss the downside of the removal approaches.”  The comments stated that the EPA’s large-scale, mass removal remedy presented risks to the public, the environment, and the workers.  For example, one comment stated “A catastrophic event during construction would cause significant, irreparable harm to the environment and the recreational and commercial fisheries.”

While the negative comments generally emphasized the risks of the EPA remedy over the in-place containment remedial alternative, the EPA’s proposed remedy will also cost from approximately $60-$80 million more than the in-place containment alternative.

Litigation is Likely

The companies that must implement the remedy, and pay for it, will probably challenge the EPA’s proposed remedy, in court. The Superfund statute gives a great deal of discretion to the EPA on remedy selection, and successful challenges to the EPA’s proposed remedies at other sites have been rare.

For a copy of the ROD click here.

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