BARRETT, Texas—Fred Barrett thought he'd wait out Hurricane Harvey at his home in this town outside Houston, founded by his great-grandfather in 1889. He prepared for heavy rain, wind and flooding.
But when the murky brown San Jacinto River jumped its banks, flooding Barrett's neighbors and an ominous cluster of four hazardous waste Superfund sites nearby, Barrett worried the catastrophic 2017 storm could fill his community with deadly toxins.
The most notorious of the sites, the San Jacinto Waste Pits, was smashed by 16 feet of water that undermined a concrete cap covering the site's toxic contents, washing dioxin downriver. A dive team from the Environmental Protection Agency later found the potent human carcinogen in river sediment at 2,300 times the agency's standard for cleanup.
Several miles upriver, Barrett, a historically Black town, shares a wooded area with the French Limited Superfund site. That toxic dump was built so close to the Barrett family homestead that, as a young man, Fred Barrett could hear the rumble of tractor-trailers hauling chemical waste, including carcinogens, down the Gulf Pump Road to a foul pond.