I remember visiting the town of Sydney on a vacation to Nova Scotia and staring in wonder at how normal life seemed to be alongside the Sydney Tar Ponds, a large toxic waste dump. It smelled, of course, but ducks bathed in the site’s toxic water and average houses sat across the street, less than 100 feet away. All that separated environmental devastation from civilization was a simple chain-link fence.
The same can be said for Texas’ Harris County. In a recent issue of the Texas Observer, Emily DePrang tours the Houston area’s 11 Superfund toxic waste sites—dumps so nasty that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shells out billions of dollars for their cleanup. After she visits sites like the Geneva Industries 13.5-acre dump where the EPA removed 62,000 tons of contaminated soil and a million gallons of “poison water” in the 1980s, DePrang wonders, “What could possibly be left?”
But like Sydney’s residents, the people of Harris County live their daily lives among the toxic dumps. And as in most cases of environmental damage, “[t]he sites,” DePrang writes, “have remained little known except to Houston’s poorest residents.”
For other Superfund news, check out Natalie Hudson’s recent piece on Utne.com. —Eric Kelsey