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EPA: Houston Superfund Site Leaked Toxic Chemicals After Harvey

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Officials test sediment samples at the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site after Hurricane Harvey hit the region in Texas. EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that Hurricane Harvey damaged a protective cap at a Superfund site along the San Jacinto River, near Houston, and caused a spike in chemical levels in the water.

Water samples from one of 14 monitoring sites at the San Jacinto waste pits indicated levels of dioxin above 70,000 parts per trillion, more than 2,000 times higher than the site's cleanup goal of 30 parts per trillion. Dioxin is a cancer-causing chemical that stays in the environment for hundreds of years before breaking down.


The risks from flooding were foreseen. In a cleanup plan proposed in 2016, the EPA noted that the protective cap could be damaged by a large hurricane or severe storm that caused the river to rise.

"Sea level rise, storm surge, and heavy downpours in combination with the pattern of continued development in coastal areas are increasing damage to U.S. infrastructure and are also increasing risks to ports and other installations. Because the intensity of future storms and flooding may increase, estimates regarding the ability of a cap (even a cap with increased armoring) to contain the dioxin waste material is highly uncertain," the report stated.

The pits were built in the 1960s to hold waste material from a paper mill.

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