Evidence of spills at toxic site during floods

PASADENA, Texas (AP) — The U.S. government received reports of three spills at one of Houston’s dirtiest Superfund toxic waste sites in the days after the drenching rains from Hurricane Harvey finally stopped. Aerial photos reviewed by The Associated Press show dark-colored water surrounding the site as the floods receded, flowing through Vince Bayou and into the city’s ship channel.

The reported spills, which have not been publicly detailed, occurred at U.S. Oil Recovery, a former petroleum industry waste processing plant contaminated with a dangerous brew of cancer-causing chemicals. On Aug. 29, the day Harvey’s remnants cleared out, a county pollution control team sent photos to the Environmental Protection Agency of three large concrete tanks flooded with water. That led PRP Group, the company overseeing the ongoing cleanup, to call a federal emergency hotline to report a spill affecting nearby Vince Bayou.

Over the next several days, the company reported two more spills of potentially contaminated storm water from U.S. Oil Recovery, according to reports and call logs obtained by the AP from the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates the National Response Center hotline. The EPA requires that spills of oil or hazardous substances in quantities that may be harmful to public health or the environment be immediately reported to the 24-hour hotline when public waterways are threatened.

The EPA has not publicly acknowledged the three spills that PRP Group reported to the Coast Guard. The agency said an on-scene coordinator was at the site last Wednesday and found no evidence that material had washed off the site. The EPA says it is still assessing the scene.

The AP reported in the days after Harvey that at least seven Superfund sites in and around Houston were underwater during the record-shattering storm. Journalists surveyed the sites by boat, vehicle and on foot. U.S. Oil Recovery was not one of the sites visited by AP. EPA said at the time that its personnel had been unable to reach the sites, though they surveyed the locations using aerial photos.

Following AP’s report, EPA has been highlighting the federal agency’s response to the flooding at Superfund sites. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reiterated that safeguarding the intensely polluted sites is among his top priorities, during a visit Friday to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, one of the sites AP reported about two weeks ago.

Pruitt then boarded a Coast Guard aircraft for an aerial tour of other nearby…

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