Community seeks to test sediment from Houston Ship Channel

A coalition of local organizations released test results Tuesday revealing high levels of dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, cadmium and dioxins, in bottom sediments from the Houston Ship Channel that is dredged and dumped into the communities close to the port.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition, which includes environmental nonprofits Air Alliance Houston and Bayou City Waterkeepers, analyzed data provided by the Army Corps of Engineers and conducted its own tests over the past year, revealing that 11 pollutants exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carcinogenic screening levels. .

Residents and community groups are calling on the Army Corps for additional and regular testing of the six sediment piles dredged in Galena Park, Channelview and Pleasantville, as well as additional protective measures to protect the community from flooding that they say could move dredged material to residents. houses.

“The information we have received so far is concerning because it shows that there are some high levels of chemicals that we don’t want in our community,” said Erandi Trevino, Houston organizer for the Healthy Port Communities Coalition . “We don’t have a lot of conclusive information to provide on each chemical, but we can say that what we have found so far shows that there is still much to discover and that we really need more tests.”

Residents have long been concerned about possible contaminants in man-made hills accumulating in their communities.

For more than a century, the Port of Houston – a 52-mile complex along the shipping channel – has reclaimed or dredged tons of soil and sediment to widen and deepen the waterway for ships going to and from Houston’s petrochemical industry. Material dredged from the canal was dumped in piles in east side communities including Galena Park, Channelview and Pleasantville.

Over time, this process created six 20-foot-tall mounds eventually covered in grass and clay, including a hill directly across from the Galena Park sports complex. Today, the Port of Houston is expanding the canal again as part of Project 11, a six-year effort to deepen the waterway to 46.5 feet and widen it by 170 feet for larger ones. ships.

The Army Corps plans to dump the dredged material in Galena Park, Pleasantville and Clinton Park.

The Healthy Ports Communities Coalition, the Environmental Defense Fund and Lone Star Legal Aid hired a lab for $35,000 to test the edges of the dredging piles – since only the port is allowed on these properties. They also formally requested from the Army Corps two different data sets, consisting of sediments tested by the agency before they were removed from the ship’s channel.

Neither the Army Corps nor any other federal or state entity has tested dredged materials at the dump sites. Instead, the corps drills into the ship’s channel and tests the equipment there. In its environmental impact study – finalized in 2020 – the agency tested the impact on aquatic life in the ship channel, not humans in nearby communities.

The EPA had no objection to the impact study.

What do the results say?

The Community Healthy Port Coalitions released test results in three categories: Project 11, community samples, and operations and maintenance dredging.

The six piles of sediment dredged in port communities are generally the result of typical ship channel maintenance and operations. Of the 22 spots tested, the Coalition found that all had arsenic levels above the EPA limit. According to the group, in one sample, arsenic levels were 45 times the limit.

The Coalition also analyzed data found in an appendix that has not been made public to Project 11’s environmental impact study, which found that arsenic was seven times the EPA limit and that dioxins were 16 times the EPA limit. Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and damage the immune system, according to the EPA.

The coalition tested for arsenic, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are man-made chemicals that can impact the thyroid and reproductive system. PCBs, banned for use in the United States since 1979, were found at an exceedance rate 2.5 times the EPA exceedance limit.

The group is holding a news conference Tuesday, in front of one of Galena Park’s dredging piles.

This is breaking news. Please check again for updates.

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