As Dwight Chandler sipped beer and swept out the thick muck caked inside his devastated home, he worried whether Harvey’s floodwaters had also washed in pollution from the old acid pit just a couple blocks away.
Long a center of the nation’s petrochemical industry, the Houston metro area has more than a dozen such Superfund sites, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being among America’s most intensely contaminated places. Many are now flooded, with the risk that waters were stirring dangerous sediment.
The Highlands Acid Pit site near Chandler’s home was filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations. Though 22,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste and soil were excavated from the acid pits in the 1980s, the site is still considered a potential threat to groundwater, and EPA maintains monitoring wells there.
When he was growing up in Highlands, Chandler, now 62, said he and his friends used to swim in the by-then abandoned pit.
“My daddy talks about having bird dogs down there and to run and the acid would eat the pads off their feet,” he recounted on Thursday. “We didn’t know any better.”
The Associated Press visited five Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water; some were only accessible only by boat.
EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham could not immediately provide details on when agency experts would inspect the Houston-area sites. She said Friday that EPA staff had checked on two other Superfund sites in Corpus Christi and found no significant damage.
“We will begin to assess other sites after flood waters recede in those areas,” Graham said.
At the Highlands Acid Pit on Thursday, the Keep Out sign on the barbed-wire fence encircling the 3.3-acre site barely peeked above the churning water from the nearby San Jacinto River.
A fishing bobber was caught in the chain link, and the air smelled bitter. A rusted incinerator sat just behind the fence, poking out of the murky soup.
Across the road at what appeared to be a more recently operational plant, a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, might have been inside them when the storm hit.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. President…