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Energy & Environment

EPA Says Toxic Waste Exposed at Flooded Houston-area Superfund Site

Sampling of one location showed toxic dioxin levels at 70,000 ng/kg, much higher than the EPA’s recommended ‘clean up level’ of 30 ng/kg.

EPA dive teams are shown assessing the San Jacinto River Waste PIts Superfund site.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said late Thursday that flooding after Hurricane Harvey exposed "high levels" of toxic waste at a Houston-area Superfund site. Flooding damaged a protective "cap" that keeps the waste contained.

The agency sampled fourteen areas at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site. (The waste came from a long-defunct paper mill.) One underwater sample found cancer-causing "dioxin" levels more than 2,000 times higher than the maximum the EPA recommends there.

The agency is directing private companies that manage the site to immediately address the damage to the protective cap, but those companies said just this week that the cap "performed exceptionally well" during Harvey. They also said their own assessments show no evidence of any waste being released at the site.

The EPA declined to answer questions about the finding, but said further sampling will show whether floodwaters moved any of the exposed toxins around.

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