The San Jacinto Waste Pits was bought in the 60s by McGinnes Industrial Mtce. Corporation. It used the 20 acre site for storage of waste sludge, and allowed the Champion Paper Mill of Pasadena to dump its waste there.
In 1990, state health officials issued an advisory, after dioxin and PCB levels were found in the water and fish tissue. The location, a once popular fishing site, had an extremely high level of cancer causing agents.
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has been pushing for a solution to stop the ongoing release of dioxin into the San Jacinto River. He remembers when he came to the site three years ago.
"The day we came, there were probably 10 or 15 people fishing, having picnics, kids swimming right there in the water, and we walked over to the berms that we'd been told what they were, but you couldn't tell by just walking."
When he became county attorney in 2009, Ryan identified the area as a major environmental hazard affecting Harris County residents. As part of a collaborative effort between the county, state and the owners of the site, Ryan announced a short term plan to install a physical protective barrier to at least contain the release of dioxin.
"This is right in the tidal area where you've got both water coming down from the interior, at the same time at the tidal basin, so it's an area (with) quite a bit of dynamics, water dynamics. So, it was getting worse over time, no question about it."
Snehal Patel heads the environmental regulatory section for the Harris County Attorney's office.
"The number one goal has been to stop the bleeding of the dioxin into our bays right now. The long term solution is still being worked on, in terms of what do we do permanently. Do we remove these pits entirely, or do we contain them? That has not been resolved. But for today, the dioxin has been contained."
Randy Brown is senior engineer with Anchor QEA, the company charged with containing the further release of dioxin.
"The analogy that I was told and I think it's a good analogy is, putting this armored cap over this area kind of sutures the cut. We stop the bleeding, we keep prevent a rout of exposure into the river, and that provides a time to do more thorough analysis of what needs to be done for a long term solution."
Efforts are being made to increase community awareness to warn people from entering the pits that were once a popular recreational area. More information can be found at www.sanjacintowastepits.com.