Energy & Environment

EPA finds the cleanup of the Jones Road Superfund in Northwest Harris County “not protective” of human health

The Superfund site is located in the Cypress Shopping Centre strip mall off Jones Road. A former dry cleaners failed to dispose of its chemicals properly, contaminating the groundwater and soil.

Courtesy of THEA
Canvassers in the shopping center where the Jones Road Superfund Site is. A former dry cleaners failed to properly dispose of its chemicals, contaminating the soil and groundwater.

The EPA has found the remediation for a hazardous waste site in Northwest Harris County to be inadequate and not protective of human health and the environment.

The Jones Road Superfund Site in Cypress is a former dry cleaners that left behind toxic chemicals when it shut down in 2002. Instead of properly disposing of the dry cleaning solvents during its 20 years of operation, the owners are believed to have put them in the facility's septic system, causing them to contaminate the soil and groundwater, according to the EPA.

In 2010, the EPA came up with a plan to clean up the Superfund site, which is located in the Cypress Shopping Centre strip mall off Jones Road, in an area where residents have historically relied on private water wells and septic systems.

Courtesy of THEA
A sign marking off part of the Jones Road Superfund Site

The plan included extracting and treating contaminated groundwater, plugging private wells and connecting residents to the public water supply, and monitoring the area's air and groundwater. In 2017, the EPA also started using a method called soil vapor extraction to remove volatile organic compounds from the soil, and in 2018 the agency installed indoor exhaust systems in the Cypress Shopping Center to remove toxic chemicals that had migrated into the building's air from the soil below.

But a recent follow-up report from the agency has now found these measures to be insufficient.

"I have determined that the remedy for the Jones Road Groundwater Plume Superfund site is not protective," John Meyer, the Acting Director of EPA Region 6's Superfund and Emergency Management Divison, wrote in the report.

  • The Jones Road Superfund Site is located in Northwest Harris County.
    The Jones Road Superfund Site is located in Northwest Harris County.
  • Jones Road Superfund Site (Photo Credit: Via EPA Report)
    Jones Road Superfund Site (Photo Credit: Via EPA Report)

 

In particular, the report outlines concerns that some residents using private wells may still be exposed to contamination, as they found several wells at different sites that exceeded drinking water standards during testing conducted in 2020.

The EPA's report outlines a series of cleanup actions to take over the next four years, including connecting additional residents to the public water system, evaluating the extent of the groundwater plume, and determining if rules are needed to prohibit the installation of additional groundwater wells in the area.

Jackie Medcalf with the nonprofit environmental group THEA called for more urgent action, since the dry cleaning solvents contaminated the soil and groundwater with chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive issues, and other health issues.

"People are living above a plume that we know can come up through, the chemicals can come up through, the ground as vapors into their homes, into their yards, people can be exposed that route," she said. "But we also know that where this plume of contamination is many local residents are tapping into it with their private groundwater wells."

Medcalf also said it’s important to understand how the plume has changed over the years.

"We know that in recent years, the plume direction has shifted, and there’s not a clear understanding of where exactly that chemical plume is today," she said. "We have to understand that first and foremost, so that residents can be advised and that residents in the appropriate area can be put on a safe and reliable drinking source."

Medcalf's group has partnered with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch to conduct additional air and soil testing in the area.