PORT ARTHUR, Texas – A temporary dumping ground used to sort moldy debris from buildings flooded after Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas was closed following a weeks-long campaign by the neighborhood’s predominantly elderly black homeowners complaining of potential health risks.
Residents and activists celebrated after the site was closed Sunday as contractors finished their first sweep of ruined furniture and appliances left curbside in Port Arthur, a Gulf Coast city about 80 miles east of Houston.
More than 12,000 structures were damaged by floodwaters after the storm hit the city, including about 80 percent of local homes. The neighborhood where the site was located was spared from storm damage, but not from a tower of water-logged trash.
Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Amy Dinn sent a letter to Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman in September, asking for the site to be relocated away from people’s homes.
“Residents were being told, ‘Don’t go near it, don’t breathe it, it’s off-loading gases and sulfite.’ So they still have to look at it, smell it, get the particulate matter and dust from it. It was compounding the harm to this particular neighborhood, and we thought that was unfair,” Dinn said.
Air and soil tests showed the site was safe, according to city spokeswoman Risa Carpenter. The area was permitted by the state environmental commission and is the site of the city’s former water treatment plant.
Carpenter said the dumping site was closed because it was no longer needed, not because of citizens’ concerns.
“Whatever they say is cool with me as long as it’s gone,” said Port Arthur environmental activist Hilton Kelley, who organized a human blockade to try to prevent dump trucks from entering the site.
Still, Kelley said, concerns remain about the long-term effects of “living next to a two-story pile of toxic debris.”
Carpenter said the city’s remaining storm debris will be collected and disposed of by the end of the year.
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