WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday it has recovered 517 containers filled with unidentified, potentially hazardous material found floating in or washed up along Texas waterways after the devastating floods from Hurricane Harvey receded.
The agency’s statement sought to clarify an earlier media release saying the containers were recovered from highly contaminated toxic waste sites. EPA said that statement issued Friday night by the Federal Emergency Management Agency created confusion by conflating two separate issues.
The FEMA media release summarizing the federal response Harvey’s historic floods said EPA had “conducted assessments of 43 Superfund sites and recovered 517 containers of unidentified, potentially hazardous material.”
The Associated Press reported about the statement Saturday afternoon, after EPA’s press office did not responded to questions sent by email to top staffers the night before.
“EPA and our response partners have been collecting containers orphaned after the hurricane,” David Gray, a spokesman for EPA’s regional headquarters in Texas, said in an email to AP on Sunday. “These are not related to Superfund clean ups.”
Gray did not respond to questions about why he and other EPA press staff had not sought to clarify the issue for more than 44 hours. Also left unanswered are questions about the results of EPA’s assessments at two highly contaminated Houston-area Superfund sites flooded by Harvey’s record shattering rains.
EPA has not responded to more than a dozen calls and emails from AP over the last two weeks.
AP reported Sept. 18 that a government hotline had received calls about three separate spills at the U.S. Oil Recovery Superfund site, a former petroleum waste processing plant outside Houston contaminated with a dangerous brew of cancer-causing chemicals.
Records obtained by the AP showed workers at the site reported spills of unknown materials in unknown amounts affecting nearby Vince Bayou. Local pollution control officials photographed three large tanks that had been used to store potentially hazardous waste completely underwater on Aug. 29.
EPA has still not disclosed the spills or what was in the tanks before they flooded. The agency says its staff visited the site the following week and saw no visual evidence of contaminants in the bayou.
Associated Press reporter Frank Bajak contributed from Houston.
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