When EPA administrator Scott Pruitt toured the San Jacinto Waste Pits site after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the area, he said the federal agency would make a decision by October 14 about whether to remove, dredge or permanently cap the waste pits.
In other words, the debate over what to do about the San Jacinto Waste Pits, the dioxin-filled kolache of a federal Superfund site nestled on the edge of the San Jacinto River, has been raging ever since the site was deemed toxic and given a temporary cap back in 2011. But now it's crunch time.
The waste pits were created starting in the 1960s when International Paper's predecessor, Champion Paper, hired McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation to haul off the toxic sludge the paper mill was producing in Pasadena. McGinnis toted the toxic crud up the San Jacinto and tucked containers of waste into the pits until they were packed full and written off of the company's assets in 1968.
Since then, the containers have remained at the site, but the paper mill byproducts saturated the ground around the area and over the years dioxin, a known carcinogen, has oozed out of the site, a situation that many residents say has caused all sorts of health problems, including cancer. After decades of being forgotten, the waste pits were "discovered" by the EPA in 2005 and the spot was turned into a Superfund site, designated for cleanup, by 2008.
The companies on the hook for polluting the site had placed a temporary $9 million cap on the pits, and before the cap was even completed, company officials were already hoping to talk the EPA into allowing them to simply make the cap permanent by reinforcing it and putting more rock on top of it.