Energy & Environment

DOJ investigating Houston illegal dumping complaints, allege racial discrimination

The complaint alleges that the city’s denial of services threaten the health and safety of Black and Latino people in Houston. 

Gail Delaughter
A pile of household trash dumped in Houston’s Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. Constable Alan Rosen says illegal dumps often start small and continue to grow.

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Houston's response to illegal dumping, and whether the city is guilty of racial discrimination.

The department, along with the Office for Environmental Justice, will look into the 311 helpline system and analyze the city's response to complaints from residents in Black and Latino communities.

Other departments that will be investigated are the Houston Police Department, the Department of Neighborhoods and the Solid Waste Management Department.

Kristen Clarke is the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. She said the investigation began after they received a complaint from Lone Star Legal Aid, and that the complaint said neighborhoods like Trinity/Houston Gardens are affected, and that residents frequently call about illegal dumping like household furniture, mattresses, tires, medical waste, trash, dead bodies, and vandalized ATMs.

“Illegal dump sites not only attract rodents, mosquitoes and other vermin that pose health risks, but they can also contaminate third contaminate surface water and impact proper drainage,” Clarke said.

The complaint alleges that the city’s denial of services andfailure to adequately and equitably respond to illegal dump site concerns” threaten the health and safety of black and Latino people in Houston.

“These alleged acts also devalue the real property of black and Latino Houstonians in violation of Title six,” Clarke said. “Data compiled by the city shows that a high concentration of the illegal dumping occurs within Houston, in particular in communities of color.”

The Office of Environmental Justice was established earlier this year under President Biden's Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

"This investigation exemplifies the department’s commitment to alleviating disproportionate environmental burdens that are all too often by communities of color, low income communities and tribal communities." said Todd Kimm from the office.

The Justice Department has already reached out to the Mayor's office to request information and documents.

Mayor Turner responded to the investigation announcement through a statement in which he called their efforts a “slap in the face to the city.”

“For years, the City of Houston, in collaboration with Harris County and others, has worked to assist to assist Black and Brown Houstonians living in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens community, where cancer-causing creosote from Union Pacific Railroad has created health concerns. Yet, the DOJ has remained silent. We have taken legal steps to advocate for people living in these community with no help from the DOJ.”

He also criticized the DOJ’s lack of action in their response to flood mitigation efforts after Harvey.

“Further, today’s announcement follows the DOJ’s blatant inaction when faced with the Texas General Land Office’s (GLO) refusal to engage in voluntary compliance and conciliation, despite the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Formal Determination that GLO discriminated based on race and national origin against Black and Brown Houstonians in the design and operation of the CDBG-Mitigation Hurricane Harvey Competition.”

The mayor said he intends for the office to fully comply with the DOJ’s efforts and believes there will be no trace of discrimination found in their investigation.

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