Harris County Public Heath recently warned people living near the San Jacinto River Waste Pit Superfund site to avoid drinking tap water after dioxin, a known carcinogen, was detected in groundwater wells near the Channelview site. Along the way, the county became the first government agency to actually test the area groundwater wells for dioxins.
The moment was a small victory for Jackie Young, the head of San Jacinto River Coalition, and a former resident of Highlands, the town where most of the contaminated wells are located.
The San Jacinto River Waste Pits have been nestled on the edge of the San Jacinto River for decades, a forgotten remnant of the toxic sludge pumped out of a Pasadena paper mill that was packed into barges, shipped downriver and stored in pits dug on the lip of the river throughout the 1960s.
In 2005 state officials discovered – or maybe just finally noticed – the pits. Then the federal Environmental Protection Agency followed up and determined that tons of hazardous waste, including dioxin, a highly potent known carcinogen that has also been tied to various health issues and birth defects, had been slowly leaking out of the pits for years. The EPA put caps on the toxic mess and proclaimed the 14-acre area a Superfund site in 2008. EPA officials say there's no safe level of exposure to these chemicals, which include a large amount of dioxins.