March 2019 Volume 2, Issue 3
Environmental Justice News
The Environmental Justice Team at Lone Star Legal Aid welcomes you to Environmental Justice News. We’re keeping communities updated on our team’s ongoing environmental law efforts throughout our 72-county service area in Texas.

In our newsletter, you’ll find an overview of the types of legal cases we’re currently handling for eligible individuals and organizations who are living in fence-line communities and other areas where environmental justice is a concern. If you have an environmental legal matter that concerns you, please
call 713-652-0077 ext. 8108 for more information on how we might be able to help your neighborhood!

Our environmental justice team is part of a broader Equitable Development Initiative at LSLA, with additional teams focusing on fair housing and community advocacy. The Equitable Development Initiative’s goal is to provide legal assistance to foster community revitalization in low-income neighborhoods by fighting systemic discrimination and degradation, and by helping residents create safe, decent and equitable living spaces.

Please feel free to forward this newsletter about Lone Star Legal Aid’s new environmental watchdogs with your friends, family and neighbors! To subscribe to our newsletter and/or receive updates about your neighborhood, click here .

Amy Dinn
Managing Attorney, Environmental Justice Team
Community Meeting Highlights Cleanup Issues at Jones Road Superfund Site

On February 25th, LSLA Environmental Justice Attorney Colin Cox took part in a community presentation aimed at providing education to residents near the Jones Road Superfund site , an area in northwest Harris County where a former dry cleaning facility, Bell Cleaners, left behind a toxic legacy of contaminated groundwater.

Hosted by LSLA community partner and environmental advocacy organization Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) , presenters included THEA's Jackie Young and Pamela Bonta along with LSLA's Colin Cox. The team updated residents on the current status of the site while providing an overview of EPA’s public participation process, arming community members with knowledge in anticipation of an upcoming community meeting with the agency.

Bell Cleaners operated a dry cleaning facility in the Cypress Shopping Center on Jones Road between 1988 and May 2002, when the facility was shut down after investigations found it was releasing a toxic dry cleaning solvent, tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PERC), directly into the storm water system behind the shopping center, as well as releasing PERC down the facility’s drain leading into the septic system. In addition, the facility's on-site PERC storage tanks leaked a further amount of the hazardous chemical, a likely carcinogen, into the ground behind the shopping center. These illegal releases contaminated the surrounding groundwater and soil with PERC and its toxic chemical byproducts, forming a groundwater plume that migrated into a nearby residential area.

EPA first placed the site on the National Priority List (NPL) in 2003, designating it a Superfund site. In 2008, the agency conducted a time-critical removal action, installing a public water line and converting some of the private water wells in the area to the public water system as an alternate drinking water source for area homes and businesses. EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the site in 2010 outlining its remediation plan, which includes a “Pump and Treat” plan to neutralize harmful chemicals without removing soil or groundwater from the site, along with additional bioremediation and soil vapor removal plans. While the agency began to undertake some of the remediation work in subsequent years, the work has only been partially completed, stalling out as funding for the $7.4M plan remains to be secured.

Concerned about drinking water quality and health issues in their neighborhood including a noticeable number of cancers, community members reached out to THEA's Pamela Bonta, who connected them with LSLA's EJ Team for help. A water technician, Bonta has been advocating for remediation to be completed at the site. “There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered,” shared Bonta.

Looking into the history of the Jones Road Superfund Site, two students at University of Texas School of Law, Matthew Frankel and Susan Stradley, prepared a detailed report for LSLA and THEA through the UT Environmental Law Clinic in November 2018. Frankel and Stradley's report outlined many problems with the site’s remediation status, including:
 
  • Remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater near the shopping center has not been completed by EPA.
  • Nearly half (49%) of residents near the site still obtain their drinking water from private wells, and have not been converted over to the public water system as recommended in EPA’s 2010 Record of Decision.
  • Groundwater testing by EPA in 2015-2016 found Chemicals of Concern (COC) at levels above EPA's threshold level in at least five different locations in neighborhoods near the shopping center.
  • A high concentration of chemicals from contaminated soil at the site continues to feed the groundwater plume.
  • There may not be enough capacity or infrastructure to support converting the remaining private wells to the public water system, as called for in the ROD.
  • The groundwater plume may have migrated further into the residential area, contaminating additional residential wells not accounted for in the remediation plan. EPA has not determined the actual extent of the plume to date.

Residents were shocked to learn the extent of these issues at the February 25th meeting. Some were under the impression that EPA had already completed the site remediation years ago. Working to raise awareness about the Superfund site among community members, Bonta has spent hours going door-to-door to talk with residents and shop owners in the Cypress Shopping Center, where some merchants were completely unaware of hazardous soil vapors emanating from the site into the surrounding environment.

EPA announced it will hold a Public Meeting on the Jones Road Superfund Site on April 8 th at 6:00pm at Bleyl Middle School, 10800 Mills Rd, Houston, TX 77070. LSLA plans to follow up with the agency and will continue to monitor the remediation progress at the site. "Now that we have an idea of what's happening with this Superfund site, we hope to see EPA engage community members for additional outreach, additional testing, and expedited remediation of the contamination,” commented LSLA’s Colin Cox, "EPA should protect this community by making funding and cleanup a priority for this site.”
Top: THEA's Pamela Bonta outside of the Cypress Shopping Center, location of the Jones Road Superfund Site . Bonta has been raising community awareness about the contamination through door-to-door outreach with residents and shop owners. / Photo: Courtesy Pamela Bonta

Above: Map of water service connections near Jones Road Superfund Site / Image: EPA
Also above: Map of Soil Vapor Plume treatment area at Jones Road Superfund Site / Image: EPA
Channelview Resident Raises Concerns over Proposed Barge Fleeting Permit Near San Jacinto River Waste Pits

What happens when you combine dangerous dioxins found along the San Jacinto River banks with construction activities that are likely to disturb the river sediment and ultimately result in an increase in barge traffic carrying dangerous liquids? Channelview resident Carolyn Stone does not want to find out.

Represented by LSLA Environmental Justice Attorney Rodrigo Cantú, Stone recently submitted public comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on a barge fleeting company’s permit application to expand its facility with a “Barge Fleeting Area for Dangerous Liquid Barges.” In close proximity to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits , one of the most toxic Superfund sites in the U.S., the proposed project is located within EPA’s delineated Area of Concern, a highly contaminated area of the site that is subject to special measures for protecting human health and marine environments from the negative impacts of the toxic waste, which also contains mercury, benzene, aromatic hydrocarbons, and furans as well as the highly toxic dioxin.

Requesting a Public Hearing on the permit, Stone, a 30-year Channelview resident, feels the proposed project does not have the best interests of the public in mind. In her comments submitted to USACE in February, Stone argued that the proposed construction activities will likely disturb the river bed’s highly toxic and carcinogenic dioxin-laden sediment, causing environmental and health risks to nearby communities. Stated in a brief Public Notice published by USACE on January 14, 2019, San Jacinto River Fleet plans to “permanently retain, repair/replace and perform maintenance on existing bulkheads, existing pilings and spud barges” - heavy offshore work stations secured by cylindrical pipes that are driven into the river bed. 

Emphasizing the potential environmental impacts of this project, Stone’s comments pointed out that the permit application fails to comply with a 2009 agreement between USACE Galveston District, EPA Region 6, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) outlining precautionary measures that must be followed before any permitted activities are undertaken in the Area of Concern of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. The agreement requires applicants to conduct sediment sample testing, something which was not evident in the permit application, says Stone. Her comments noted the strong possibility for extremely high contamination levels in the proposed construction areas, with known dioxin in the Area of Concern.

In addition to disturbing the contaminated river sediment, Stone noted that the permit would potentially result in increased barge traffic, parked barges, and accidents along the river, creating an unreasonable risk to nearby communities. Advertised as the largest single river fleeting area in Texas with 150 barges, San Jacinto River Fleet operates its fleeting areas on the east and west sides of the Northern Impoundment area of the Superfund site. Recent barge accidents in the immediate area highlight safety threats posed by an increase in barge traffic. Cautioning against adding more barges carrying dangerous liquids in the area, Stone’s comments listed nearly a dozen major barge accidents along the Houston Ship Channel in recent years, including a 2015 collision between a moving barge and a docked ship resulting in a spill of nearly 23,000 gallons of toxic, flammable naphthalene – a highly dangerous substance used in moth balls and pesticides.
 
Residential neighborhoods along the San Jacinto River, including Channelview and Highlands, have witnessed an unsettling increase in industrial activity in their areas in recent months. For example, in February 2019, nearby residents of Beach City successfully pressured a company to abandon its plans for dredging 31,000 cubic yards of potentially toxic river sediment from the Area of Concern, proposing to leave the contaminated material next to a park in their residential neighborhood.

"There is no wisdom in going forward with these plans, given what we know about the history of the nearby waste pits and the highly toxic material they have released, and still contain,” commented LSLA’s Rodrigo Cantú, “If this permit gets approved, it will be a logistical nightmare due to the soon-to-be-slated remediation of the Waste Pits.”

Added to the National Priority List by EPA in 2008, full remediation of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site is expected to begin in the near future. Announcing its Selected Remedy in an October 2017 Record of Decision (ROD), EPA has stated that remediation plans are currently in the design phase . Eventually, 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated material will be excavated using cofferdams and then removed offsite, with strict protocols being developed to reduce the risk of further exposure of communities and marine environments to the carcinogenic waste. LSLA and community partner Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) have been advocating for more community involvement during the cleanup process, resulting in stronger protections for those communities and the wider region.

Stone and community members are awaiting USACE’s response to their comments on San Jacinto River Fleet’s permit application.
Above: Diagram from Project Plans for the San Jacinto River Fleet / Image: Courtesy The San Jacinto River Fleet, LLC
Top: Aerial view of San Jacinto River Fleets / Photo: Courtesy The San Jacinto River Fleet, LLC website
Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to Engage Communities on I-45 Expansion and Children’s Health
 
Aiming to protect and promote the health and well-being of communities along the I-45 N corridor, this spring, Houston non-profit and LSLA community partner Air Alliance Houston will conduct a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on TxDOT’s I-45 N expansion project, also known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP). Funded by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation under the 500 Cities Data Challenge , the HIA will assess the NHHIP’s potential impacts to community health, while recommending protective strategies that will benefit impacted communities.
 
As an integral part of the assessment, Air Alliance will host a series of community meetings in March and April in four neighborhoods that stand to be affected most by the expansion, including Third Ward, Fifth Ward, Greater Northside/Northline, and Aldine areas. Engaging with community members for their feedback and suggestions, results of the HIA will help Air Alliance Houston to develop recommendations for mitigation strategies to protect and promote community health. A broad range of issues will be discussed, including air quality, mobility, economic development, parks and green space, noise, visual impacts, urban heat island effects and flooding, “Community involvement is crucial to the success of the HIA,” shared AAH Executive Director, Bakeyah Nelson, PhD .
 
Concerned with the health of roughly 80,000 children who attend schools in traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) zones in the Houston area, Nelson explained that children living or attending school near highly trafficked freeways like I-45 are at greater risk of damage to their developing brains, lungs, hearts, and circulatory systems. Contributing to particulate pollution and ground-level ozone , traffic-related air pollutants increase health risks like asthma and cardiac arrest. In addition, some traffic-related air pollutants such as diesel particulate matter, benzene, 1,3 butadiene, and formaldehyde are also known to cause cancer.

A transformational highway expansion project that will shape the landscape of North Houston and the downtown area for decades, TxDOT plans to rebuild and expand I-45 N from the Wheeler Transit Station in Midtown to Beltway 8 N, creating a massive widening of I-45 north of I-10 to I-610 as part of Segment 2 of the NHHIP. Downtown, TxDOT plans to re-align I-45, I-69, I-10 and Hwy 288 to ease traffic congestion coupled with currently planned destruction of the Pierce Elevated Freeway. Construction is scheduled to last 10+ years, and construction on Segment 3 could begin as early as late 2020.

After TxDOT first published its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the NHHIP in April 2017, an alliance of community organizations called Coalition to Make I-45 Better formed around concerns regarding the expansion. The group submitted formal comments on the project in summer 2017, and has continued to engage TxDOT in an effort to mitigate the NHHIP’s potential harmful environmental impacts on communities. As part of these Coalition efforts, LSLA EJ Managing Attorney Amy Dinn partnered with Houston Air Alliance and LINK Houston in a February 2018 presentation to TxDOT on the Coalition’s concerns regarding NHHIP's potential impacts to environmental justice communities. Raising awareness about the project through door-to-door outreach, LINK Houston hopes that more community members will become engaged in the process. “We found that many community members were really not aware this project is going on, or that they could provide their input,” shared LINK Houston's Ines Sigal.

Almost 2 years after the publication of the DEIS, TxDOT is still in the process of releasing a number of Draft Technical Reports required as part of the DEIS. The agency released three new reports on February 15th this year, and still has three others to produce before the DEIS is complete. Public comments are currently being accepted by TxDOT on the most recent reports until April 17, 2019. TxDOT has stated that substantive comments will be addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), expected to be published in the summer of 2019.

In conjunction with the ongoing public comment process, Air Alliance Houston hopes the results of the HIA will help inform TxDOT’s decision-making process, leading to an improved Final Environmental Impact Statement. The HIA will also serve as a model encouraging future Texas infrastructure projects to fully consider their impacts on community health.

“This project is massive, and it’s going to impact the entire region for the next 50 years or more," commented Bakeyah Nelson, "We see our current communities are living with the decisions of the past, where large infrastructure projects cut through communities of color and low-wealth, adversely impacting those neighborhoods both socially and economically as well as, compromising the health of residents. So if this project is not done thoughtfully and through an equity lens, it bears the potential to perpetuate some of those same issues. The HIA hopes to stop, or at least to minimize, this cycle of communities of color and low-wealth communities bearing the disproportionate burden of the negative impacts from these types of infrastructure projects.”

Community Meetings on Children’s Health and the I-45 N expansion will be held:

For more information about community meetings and the HIA, contact Air Alliance Houston at: 713-528-3779 or info@airalliancehouston.org
Above: Map and diagram of Segment 3 of the NHHIP / Image: TxDOT
Top: Map of Segments 1,2, and 3 of the NHHIP / Image: TxDOT
Group Client Spotlight: Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC)

Founder and Chair of Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC), Patricia Gonzales has been fighting for the rights to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment in the communities where she has lived – Pasadena, Manchester, and the Houston Ship Channel area – for the past 20 years. Engaged with Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice Team on multiple environmental issues, Caring for Pasadena Communities works to advocate for neighborhoods where air quality is so toxic, that residents often struggle just to breathe.

A former teacher, Gonzales first became interested in environmental justice concerns when her twin girls, now both sophomores at UT Austin, were small children. The family was living in the Manchester area of Houston, where the air is thick with pollution from nearby industries including Valero Houston, pumping out 235,000 barrels of oil per day next to homes in this residential neighborhood on Houston’s East end. Healthy before moving to the Manchester neighborhood, within a year and a half, her entire family became sickened with asthma, allergies, ear infections, constant stomachaches, and other chronic health problems. “My children were on breathing machines, and I was getting asthma so bad, that I couldn’t even care for them,” shared Gonzales. That’s when Gonzales decided that she had to do something - not only to help herself, but to help others as well. She began advocating for air quality issues in the Manchester neighborhood, bolstered and supported through organizations like Air Alliance Houston and mentored by Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.). “Juan Parras is awesome,” shared Gonzales, “He taught me so much. He taught me how to fight.”

Gonzales has long desired to see air monitors placed within schools and residential areas in Texas, so that community members can know what’s in their air and take action in order to keep refineries and other polluters in check. Along with Texas Clean Air Project and Air Alliance Houston, Gonzales had the opportunity to meet with the Director of EPA a decade ago in Washington, D.C. to talk about air pollution in Texas. The groups had a constructive conversation, at the end of which, the EPA Director agreed that it was a good idea to place more air monitors directly in the neighborhoods where toxic air is sickening residents on a daily basis. She then directly appealed to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) over four years ago to place monitors in her residential neighborhood and on school grounds. Gonzales is still waiting for TCEQ to take action.

At a recent community meeting with TCEQ over Valero Houston’s release of hydrogen cyanide into the Manchester neighborhood, Gonzales reminded TCEQ of her request for the monitors. Represented by Lone Star Legal Aid EJ Attorney Colin Cox, Caring for Pasadena Communities worked to request the public meeting with TCEQ and Valero, and has requested a permit challenge on Valero’s permit amendment for emitting the hydrogen cyanide, a highly toxic poisonous gas, without letting community members know about the releases. Residents at the meeting were outraged upon learning about the toxic releases.

Gonzales was eventually able to move to Pasadena - further out from the pollution, then moving a second time after discovering the air pollution was still causing problems. Her twin daughters, now living in Austin, are no longer on medication. “They are doing so much better health-wise now that they’re breathing cleaner air,” said Gonzales. But she’s concerned for the many families and individuals who don’t have the resources to move.

Working with LSLA’s EJ Team, Caring for Pasadena Communities has been engaged on several permit issues in the past year including Valero’s hydrogen cyanide permit as well as a permit challenge in the City of South Houston, where the municipal water system has submitted an amendment to their permit with TCEQ that would remove limits on how much mercury it can release into Berry Creek, flowing past fishing areas in two public parks before joining the Houston Ship Channel. CPC has also submitted public comments to USACE on large infrastructure projects including the Coastal Texas Study . Advocating for the safety of communities along the Houston Ship Channel, CPC submitted comments on the proposed expansion of the ship channel in November 2017, and more recently, the group has submitted comments to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding concerns over the potential shipment of nuclear waste by barge and rail through these communities. “Patricia and the organization she leads are not afraid to take on a variety of issues with wide-reaching effects on human health and the environment. CPC is the type of neighborhood and community-focused group that cities like Pasadena need,” commented LSLA’s Rodrigo Cantú.

Caring for Pasadena Communities’ four board members decide on which projects the organization will take on next. “They help me with everything I do,” shared Gonzales. The group has also partnered with Healthy Living Matters - Pasadena Task Force , where Gonzales joined the board three years ago to work together on community advocacy issues.

Gonzales hopes that her story will inspire others to find the power within themselves to do something, “to fight for the community,” she added, “The more people that get involved, the better the community will be. The whole point is to make your community healthy, for the children, and for yourself. Why not make it better? Get that spark in yourself, and do something where you live.”
Above: Caring for Pasadena Communities founder and Chair Patricia Gonzales
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!
Upcoming LSLA EJ Events and Advocacy:

  • Thursday, March 28th - TCEQ Public Meeting on Greenhouse Road Landfill Municipal Solid Waste Permit Amendment #1559B, Houston Marriot Energy Corridor, 16011 Katy Freeway, Houston, Texas 77094, 7pm


Upcoming Meetings on the City of Houston's Climate Action Plan:

  • Tuesday, March 19 - Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, 9314 Cullen, Houston, TX 77051, 6 – 8 pm
  • Monday, April 1 - Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery, Houston, TX 77091, 6 - 8pm
  • Monday, April 16 - Denver Harbor Multi-Service Center, 6402 Market Street, Houston, TX 77020, 6 - 8pm
  • Thursday, May 2 - Northeast Multi-Service Center, 9720 Spaulding, Houston, TX 77016, 6 - 8pm

Upcoming Meetings on the I-45 Expansion and Children's Health:
  • Tuesday, March 26 – Bruce Elementary, 510 Jensen Drive, Houston, TX 77020, 4 – 6pm




For more information on any of these presentations or upcoming meetings, please contact our EJ Team at 713-652-0077 ext. 8108.
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