City of Houston

Houston City Council approves ordinance to provide protections against contaminated groundwater on northeast side

A Municipal Setting Designation was approved for five acres of land near the Pleasantville area, meaning contaminated groundwater there cannot be used as potable water.

Tarsha Jackson
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Houston City Council member Tarsha Jackson speaks during a council meeting on June 2, 2021.

Houston City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance that prevents the use of groundwater on five acres of land on the northeast side due to previous contamination.

The area will now be classified as a Municipal Setting Designation (MSD) due to the site’s contaminated groundwater. The MSD identification was created in 2003 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for properties housing contaminated groundwater within a municipality or extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Located on 8425 Market St. in the Pleasantville area, the site was once home to ChemCentral Corporation, which operated a chemical blending facility from the late 1940s through 2005. Univar USA Inc. acquired the property in 2007 and sought a MSD to reduce the risk of possible exposure to nearby residents.

Council members were in agreement that residents needed more protection against environmental hazards, but debated at City Hall on Wednesday whether to approve Univar’s MSD application. District B council member Tarsha Jackson, who represents the area where the site is located, said many of her constituents have requested more groundwater testing, which she said would not happen with a MSD.

“They know once the MSD is set, there’s no more testing and knowing that ground is already contaminated, they [are] just concerned," she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum suggested the city put forth an ordinance requiring ongoing testing at the site. Mayor Sylvester Turner added the TCEQ is “required to do environmental testing on … properties” during all development stages and said he would be drafting an executive order to implement continuous testing on contaminated properties that are in development and once development is complete.

City Attorney Arturo Michel confirmed that under state statute, a municipality can impose additional requirements to an MSD — as long as the municipality approves the initial application.

"I think the concern for a lot of people is we cap it, they move on, somebody builds something there, [and] there’s an opportunity for voluntary testing," Castex-Tatum said.

Council member Abbie Kamin questioned what the repercussions would be if the city denied the application, since the city council has approved numerous MSD applications in the past.

"If we do not approve this, the mayor mentioned that it would still go to TCEQ and likely be approved," she said. “Is the city liable for not approving something if we have approved all of the others in the past?”

The city has approved approximately 120 MSD applications — only one has been denied and there are currently 11 in review.

Michel said if the city denied the MSD application, TCEQ could challenge the city’s decision since the site is part of the agency’s Voluntary Cleanup Program, which assesses sites in Texas that have been affected by environmental issues.

"Someone could bring a colorable equal protection claim to challenge it, and would require the city to articulate why it was denied,” Michel said.

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