May 2019 Volume 2, Issue 5
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
EPA Begins Additional Cleanup Work at Jones Road Superfund Site

On April 8th, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public meeting with community members in Cypress, Texas about updates to the agency’s cleanup efforts at Jones Road Ground Water Plume Superfund site , an area in northwest Harris County where a former dry cleaning facility, Bell Cleaners, left behind a toxic legacy of contaminated soil and groundwater. Along with EJ attorney Colin Cox, advocates Jackie Young and Pamela Bonta from LSLA community partner, Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA), joined more than 50 community members eager to hear EPA’s news on the site’s status report.

Remedial Project Manager Raji Josiam and Community Involvement Coordinator Jason McKinney discussed cleanup progress at the site and emphasized the agency’s commitment to transparency and improved community involvement as the cleanup moves forward. 

From 1998 to 2002, Bell Cleaners operated a dry cleaning facility in the Cypress Shopping Center on Jones Road until the facility was shut down in May of 2002, after investigators found it had been 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 down the facility’s drain leading into the septic system. In addition, the cleaner’s on-site PERC storage tanks leaked more of the chemical, a likely carcinogen, into the ground behind the shopping center. These illegal releases contaminated the surrounding soil, forming a groundwater plume that migrated into a nearby residential area.

In a significant update to the site’s cleanup status, EPA’s Josiam announced that the soil vapor extraction process has now begun. Recently funded, the soil vapor extraction plan was added when the agency amended its Record of Decision (ROD) for the site in 2017. Josiam explained that EPA contractors are currently installing extraction equipment in the parking lot of the Cypress Shopping Center. The extraction equipment should be in full operation by summer 2019, with the entire extraction process expected to be completed within 18-24 months. 

The most critical aspect of the remediation, the soil vapor extraction process will remove contaminated soil that has been continually feeding the groundwater plume for years, impeding the remediation process. Once the soil vapor extraction has been completed, the agency plans to conduct a revised investigation to determine the extent and location of the groundwater plume. After the extent and location of the plume is determined, the agency said it will revise its “Pump and Treat” plan to neutralize harmful chemicals, tailoring the plan to the location and size of the plume. EPA expects the full remediation process could take upwards of ten years.

According to EPA, as many as 120 residential homes may still be affected by groundwater contamination through the use of private wells. While a time-critical action by the agency in 2008 provided new municipal water connections to some of the affected homes on private wells, very little is currently known about how many residents may still be drawing water from private wells, or whether their water is contaminated. Providing a sign-up sheet for residents to receive water testing at the tap, administrators said the agency is committed to water testing for any community members in the affected area who request it. 

In order to ensure an alternative source of drinking water for residents on private wells, the agency told community members that it is in the process of beginning discussions with White Oak Bend Municipal Utility District (MUD) about the feasibility of expanding the MUD’s capacity and adding water connections for those residents who are currently on private wells.

At the meeting, EPA promised more transparency and a more robust engagement with community members moving forward. Community Involvement Coordinator Jason McKinney explained that the agency is currently amending its Community Involvement Plan for the site and will consider holding public meetings every 6 months instead of every 2 -3 years, as the agency had previously been doing.
Community members viewed these promised steps by the agency as positive developments in what has been a long recovery process. “We are happy that EPA has finally begun cleanup at Jones Road in earnest,” said LSLA’s Colin Cox, “This plume has been spreading through the groundwater aquifers for 20 years, in an area where many people still drink water from those same aquifers. Now that cleanup has begun, we hope EPA maintains a sense of urgency, both towards the cleanup itself and towards identifying and helping those households still at risk of PERC exposure.”
Top: THEA's Pamela Bonta outside of Cypress Shopping Center, location of the Jones Road Superfund Site / Photo: Courtesy Pamela Bonta
EJ Team Highlights Environmental Justice
at Earth Day Houston

On Sunday, April 14, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice Team took part in th e 49th annual Earth Day Houston celebration, hosted by Discovery Green. Almost 50 years after the City of Houston held its very first Earth Day celebrations in 1970 , LSLA marked this important civic-focused action day with an exhibit that introduced attendees to the concept of environmental justice, while highlighting the team’s recent advocacy work.

Attendees were drawn to the EJ team’s table through colorful display boards that mapped out existing environmental hazards and Superfund sites located in Flood Zones across Harris County. Visually demonstrating the concept of environmental justice, another poster displayed a series of color-coded maps revealing how zip code determines your health . Across the greater Houston area, minority and low-wealth neighborhoods bear the burden of higher amounts of air pollution and other toxins emitted by industrial facilities. These differences are mirrored by similarly contrasting rates of cancer and respiratory disease across the city, with higher rates of both environmental hazards and health risks concentrated in Houston’s northeast, East End, Houston Ship Channel, and south Houston areas, roughly forming an inverted “C” shape on the map. 

Another board displayed some of the dozens of environmental concerns the EJ team has taken on in LSLA’s wider service area this past year, including safe drinking water issues in Marlin, air quality concerns in Woodville, Beaumont and Port Arthur, and contamination concerns near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site.

During the event, EJ Managing attorney Amy Dinn took the stage at Discovery Green as an invited speaker, highlighting the team’s work. The team’s exhibit also included a copy of the April 14th Sunday edition of the Houston Chronicle , with front-page coverage telling the story of a community’s struggle over creosote contamination in Houston’s Fifth Ward near Union Pacific’s Englewood Yard, a current case being handled by LSLA EJ Attorney Rodrigo Cantú.

This year’s celebration aimed to be a zero-waste event, and the EJ team was up to the task. In lieu of paper flyers and educational materials, interested visitors signed up for the EJ newsletter via text message, and EJ Team business cards provided a link to our Environmental Resources page , where educational materials on a variety of environmental issues are available for downloading.

The EJ Team was pleased to see young and old alike taking an active interest in finding out more about the team’s advocacy work to across our area. “It was great to see so many attendees interested in learning more about the nature of environmental hazards in their neighborhoods,” said Cantú.

"The Earth Day celebration at Discovery Green provides an opportunity for Houstonians to get involved in all kinds of local environmental initiatives," added managing attorney Dinn, "Lone Star Legal Aid is happy to be a part of that collaborative spirit."

The EJ Team hopes you will join us at next year's Earth Day celebration!
Above: Environmental Toxic Sites in High Risk Flood Zones in Harris County / Image: Texas Campaign for the Environment
National Air Toxic Assessment (NATA) Cancer Risk Data for the greater Houston area / Source: U.S. EPA
Proximity to facilities with Risk Management Plans in the greater Houston area (facilities using extremely hazardous chemicals) / Source: U.S. EPA
National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) Respiratory Hazard Index for the greater Houston area / Source: U.S. EPA
Minority Population (National Percentiles) in the greater Houston area / Source: U.S. EPA
Top: EJ Team members Samantha Salas and Rodrigo Cantu at Earth Day at Discovery Green / Photo: Amy Dinn
Group Client Spotlight: Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water

Founder and Director of the community group Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water (CCACW), Melanie Oldham has been keeping Brazoria County residents up to date on environmental concerns for more than a decade. Advocating for hundreds of concerned community members in Freeport, Oldham formed CCACW in 2006 in order to provide education to residents suffering from impacts of hazardous chemicals and toxic pollutants released into their neighborhoods by nearby industry.

After adopting a child with severe learning disabilities, Oldham, a physical therapist who has worked in healthcare for 36 years, first began speaking out about learning disabilities on a broader platform through the community advocacy group, Partners in Policy Making. Traveling to Austin to advocate for public health, Oldham began connecting public health with pollution concerns in Brazoria County, discovering high ozone levels, a lack of adequate pollution monitors, and a lot of pollution coming from industrial activity along Port Freeport. More than a dozen petrochemical facilities including BASF, Dow Chemical, and Air Liquide are situated along the Intracoastal Waterway between bait shops and bird sanctuaries, sending flares into a haze-filled sky over Texas highway 332 from Freeport to Surfside Beach.

In 2017, Oldham was introduced to LSLA's Environmental Justice Team through Adrian Shelley, Director of the Austin-based advocacy group and LSLA community partner, Public Citizen. Along with CCACW member, longtime Freeport resident and business owner Johnny Kouches, Oldham has been engaged through CCACW on a number of environmental issues this past year with the help of LSLA’s EJ team.

In February 2019, CCACW submitted public comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Coastal Texas Study, a project that includes plans for the Texas Coastal Spine and supplemental projects aimed at protecting coastal communities from the impacts of flooding. In comments to USACE, the group asked the agency to analyze whether its planned 1-foot raise in Freeport's levee would be enough to protect community members in the face of predicted sea level rises, pointing out that the Corps’ own recent sea level rise prediction of 3.5 feet by 2070 suggests otherwise. The group has also asked USACE for a more detailed analysis of expected impacts to pipelines, hazardous waste sites and a nearby Superfund site.

Working with EJ attorney Colin Cox, CCACW has been preparing to submit public comments to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on several air quality and water quality permits for a company called Gladiuex Metals Recycling (GMR). The company is proposing to process dirty spent catalysts - highly toxic heavy metal byproducts shipped from refineries all over the world to the Freeport facility for processing and storage. 

GMR purchased the facility in 2017 after the former Gulf Chemical and Metallurgical Corporation (GCMC) filed for bankruptcy due to problems with illegal releases of highly toxic heavy metal pollution into the air and water. Known as “one of the most notorious polluters in Texas,” GCMC had a decades-long history of repeated and flagrant violations of the state’s air and water emission standards and was eventually placed on EPA’s watch list. Through the efforts of CCACW and others to expose GCMC’s unacceptable and illegal pollution practices, TCEQ finally fined the company and requested upgrades to its equipment, some of which had not been replaced since the 1950's. Claiming the repairs would be too costly, the company declared bankruptcy.

Concerned about the potential risks to public health and environment posed by the reopening of this facility, CCACW plans to review Gladieux's permit applications thoroughly, and will request a public meeting on the pending water quality permit, so that residents of Freeport can have their concerns directly addressed by the company and TCEQ. “Unless we citizens get involved and speak up to TCEQ,” said Oldham, “nothing gets done.”

“Gladiuex has repeatedly reassured community members that they intend to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, unlike Gulf Chemical did,” added LSLA’s Colin Cox, “In 2018, the President of GMR stated that his company would be transparent and open with the community. But once CCACW began asking for more details regarding the air and water quality permits, GMR stopped responding. A public meeting on this water quality permit application is a chance for GMR to make good on its commitment to the people of Freeport, who deserve to know what the company’s plans are, and what steps it intends to take to safeguard the community's health.”

GMR published a Notice of Application and Preliminary Decision (NAPD) on its Water Quality permit on May 1, 2019. Members of the public may submit comments and request a public meeting or a contested case hearing until Friday, May 31, 2019, by entering the permit # WQ0001861000 along with your name, contact information and comments to:

CCACW is working to address other community health concerns as well. Oldham explains that Freeport residents have become all too familiar with cancer in recent years. Looking into the residents’ growing concerns, Oldham reached out to Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) to request a cancer cluster investigation in 2015. An obligation of the state agency to investigate community concerns, cancer cluster investigations begin with an analysis of statewide cancer data to determine if certain types of cancer are found at higher rates in the geographical area in question. After waiting for results of the study for three years, Oldham finally received a report from TDSHS on May 2, 2018. The agency found a statistically significant excess of cancer for five different types of cancer among Freeport residents, validating the community’s health concerns. The report can be viewed at:

With assistance from LSLA attorney Ashea Jones on EDI’s Community Advocacy team, Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water looks forward to becoming formally incorporated as a non-profit in the coming months. Committed to her advocacy work as ever, Oldham explained that formalization of the organization’s governance structure will help the group build capacity to accomplish its objectives. “Becoming a non-profit will allow us to help more community members through better outreach, education, and advocacy efforts,” shared Oldham, “We really appreciate LSLA’s help in accomplishing this goal.” 
Above: A view of the Old Brazos River near Mitchell's Pier in Freeport / Photo: Rebecca Novak
Top: Melanie Oldham / Photo: Courtesy Texas Observer
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!

Monday, June 3 - Impact Community Meeting regarding contamination in the Fifth Ward by Union Pacific , True Love Baptist Church, 4029 Falls Street (Entrance off Emmet and Sayers Streets), 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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