Monday, June 30, 2014

Brio / DOP EPA Superfund Site: 1980s Leader Coverage

Aerial of Brio and Dixie Oil Processing
with Southbend Houses still occupied

If Marie ever has the time, I hope she will someday collect everything into a book about Brio & DOP's effect on our neighborhood. 

For now, the best I can do is piece together the coverage as it was published in the Leader. There were pieces here and there throughout the 1980s, but 1988 and 1989 are brimming with new discoveries, cover-ups, lies, and big money interests. 

I have only scanned through 1989, but here is what I've collected thus far:

Going back...

Spring 1975

Land adjacent to the unknown toxic dumps is bought to build the Sagemont baseball fields.
Men digging out the area find pipes running from the sites into the fields.
They do not know what chemicals were being sloughed off into the area. 

Kids would play in the mud and ponds of water that ran off of the toxic sites for almost 15 years. 

August 1981
Weber Elementary in Southbend opens its doors. 

Southbend House Building is booming: 
The Prestigious new home community, South Belt exit


Southbend home building continues.
People picket to keep Ryland Homes out, whose building plans don't meet deed restrictions.
Spoiler alert: Ryland is not what's going to "ruin our neighborhood" 


"possible contamination" leads the MUD to purchase an alternative water source
"No detectable contaminants have yet been found by either the task force or the utility district."


"All water supply wells meet existing primary and secondary drinking water standards and the Texas Aid Control Board has determined no adverse effects to human health from the air..."

But no one takes ownership and the task force bogs down. "We'll (the task force) be ready whenever we get the word . . . "


Southbend resident Bill McGuire would like someday to be able to "walk on the Brio site barefoot and chug my toes into it." 

That is what he told Environmental Protection Agency officials at a public hearing Tuesday night concerning the EPA's proposed cleanup of the toxic waste site before some 400 people.  

"I want to see the damn thing cleaned up," he said. "I don't care if you move it, eat it, or chuck it away." 

McGuire was one of several Southbend residents, community leaders, and others with vested interested in the site that turned out for the four hour meeting at Weber Elementary to put their comments on record. 

The EPA held the hearing as a prelude to making a final determination on the cleanup method to be used at the Superfund site. 

While some speakers expressed concern over the EPA-preferred method of incineration, most expressed anger over the degree of cleanup being proposed by the agency. 

The EPA is proposing a partial cleanup which would leave the site restricted. The plan entails removing some 62,000 cubic tons of contaminated material from five pits and incinerating the material at a cost of $21 million to $26 million. 

"The site will look good but will require limited access," said Larry Wright, chief of Superfund enforcement for this region. 

Total cleanup, leaving the site available for commercial or residential use, would involve removing some 300,000 cubic yards of the material at a cost of $66 million to $82 million. 

"A partial cleanup is totally unacceptable," said Chris Clark, a representative from the South Belt Civic Coalition. "You would be creating a monument forever, a stigma of a toxic waste dump. What you're suggesting is a solution that has no end in sight.

Dr. Luanne Boudreaux, an administrator at San Jacinto College South, said the partial cleanup would leave the community in a "cloud of uncertainty." 

David Buxton, a design engineer, with Harris County Flood Control told the officials that the department has "come to a standstill in improving drainage in this community" due to not being able to widen Mud Gully, a drainage ditch that runs through the contaminated site. 

"We're just waiting for the removal of the contamination," he said. He said Flood Control has worked upstream and downstream of the site and cannot improve the channel further without going on-site. 

Political leaders also made their presence known, either by attending the meeting, sending representatives or sending letters.  

Southbend homeowner Traci Sugasti read a letter to the EPA from U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. "I would like to encourage the agency to listen carefully and weigh heavily the comments of the community, as the people living near the Brio site have the most to gain -- and the most to lose..." Bentsen wrote. 

But what the community wants and what is appropriate may be two different things, Wright said. 

"What we believe is appropriate is less than total removal," Wright told the group. Superfund law doesn't say we're supposed to restore every site to pristine environments." 

Throughout the course of the meeting representatives of the Southbend Homeowners Association continued to gather signatures on a petition begun last week urging EPA to totally clean the site. At the close of the meeting, some 600 people had signed. 

On Wednesday, community leader Marie Flickinger was meeting with U.S. politicians, including Mike Andrews and J. Brooks, concerning the site. 

Representatives of the Southbend Homeowners Association say they are confident that public sentiment and political clout can add impetus to their fight for total cleanup. 

The EPA is expected to make a final cleanup decision by the end of  March. The decision will then be presented to the Brio Task Force, a group of companies potentially responsible for the contamination which is responsible for funding the cleanup. 

If incineration is the selected method it could take four years for a partial cleanup and 18 years for a total cleanup.

Bureaucracy reigns

From summer testing: EPA claims no soil problems exist

October: Hazards Cited at Brio Dump
The wide difference in cost is due to the fact 
it is not yet known how much of the site will need to be cleaned up.



DOP Assumed Hazardous, 20 feet away, ballfields safe

"The EPA tells me I can't do anything with the building on the north DOP site. According to Lowe, an area of hazardous waster is buried 125 feet north of the building, but only 20 feet from the fence separating the property from the United Sports Association ballfields. . . . The EPA tells me I can't do anything with the building because of possible contamination and hazardous conditions. Well, if the building is in a hazardous situation 125 feet from the material, then why isn't the sports complex in a hazardous area?"

The EPA contends a fence is fine to protect the ballfields and the subdivision of Southbend.


For years the EPA saw no need to test the United Sports Association ball fields for contamination. . . .

South Belt area residents who helped build the fields 15 years ago expressed alarm that the EPA was only going to test the first few inches of top soil. Bob Miller, vice president of USA in 1975 said since large amounts of top soil has been brought in to build the fields up, "testing a few inches down, wouldn't do a damn bit of good." . . . .

Miller said when he first started working the fields and discovered it used to be a rice field he also found four six-inch pipes running from the DOP property onto the boggy ground draining some type of chemical.

"We didn't know to be concerned back then. I plowed the pipes under to stop the draining. I also don't understand why the EPA waited until now to do the testing. They should have made sure no problems existed a long time ago considering the utilization of the property. The should have taken the kids into consideration before now," said Miller.


Questions involving the possible contamination of the United Sports Association (USA) ball fields by illegal dumping of toxic materials or illegal draining from the Brio and Dixie Oil Processing toxic waste sites remain just questions.  . . .

[In 1987 a document from Monsanto came to light with this chilling sentence]

"The existence of harmful chemicals within such proximity to human habitation is identifiable and imminent."

Southbend still thinks their nightmare will be all be over in a few years
Meanwhile, Southbend Homeowners officials are saying via the newsletter that "while the R.O.D. falls short of what we had hoped for, it appears to be what we will have to live with."

The R.O.D. chose bio-degradation as the means of cleaning the site, a process that based on the 13 pits will take 36 to 40 months to complete.


The EPA is dragging its feet over classifying the DOP and Brio as Superfund sites. Concern by the EPA is pretty much zero:

Community leaders concerned for area children have worried about the consequences of the children playing at the ballpark or in and around both Brio and DOP. EPA public relations spokesman Roger Meachern said the areas were fenced and posted warning people to stay away and that both sites are secure. 

"I'll tell you what, we can't function as guardians of the neighborhood children. People, parents to start with, and other people who are concerned with this contamination must make some effort to keep those children away from that stuff."

With results from the EPA's residential soil sampling and the U.S. Public Health Service's Health Assessment stating no immediate health risks exist for the residents of Southbend, controversy remains over numerous listings of unknown chemicals. 

If officials conducting tests or analyzing data for the EPA find a substance not listed as a priority pollutant, then no further testing is done and the substance ends up identified as unknown. . . .

By law only those chemicals with priority status can undergo analysis. . . .

Last week an independent analysis of substances found at the DOP contained substantial amounts of mutagens and carcinogens that under EPA guidelines would be listed as unknowns.

According to the analysis conducted by Hanby Analytical Laboratories Inc., the sample contained chloroprene and phenylhydrazine among other materials toxic in nature. Dr. Daniel Tietelbaum, a toxicity expert said chloroprene is a mutagen and therefore dangerous. The phenylhydrazine is a carcinogen, or cancer causing agent. 

Hanby chemist Tim Corum, who conducted the sample analysis, said in most cases he tests samples for toxic chemical in parts per billion. In the case of the DOP sample he found toxic chemicals in 100s parts per million.

According to Corum, these chemicals exists in very dangerous concentration at the DOP site. 

Since these two chemicals are not on the EPA priority list, the EPA test would either not detect their presence or they would be listed on reports as unknowns. . . .

"The people have a right to know exactly what is out there at the site . . . All the EPA and the other parties involved want to do is ignore the problem and cover it up with a six-inch layer of dirt."

Harold Faulk, truck driver for JOC Oil first admits, "We dumped anything and everything any place we could."

After spending a few hours behind closed doors, Faulk changed his story.

 Southbend leases terminated due to Brio:

"Residing in Southbend subdivision presents a present and immediate danger to the heath of those residents."

In 1975, DOP sought permission to bury 500 barrels of tarry copper catalyst and a  number of copper contaminated barrels on-site. According to Peirce, 500 barrels would equate to close to one-quarter of a million pounds. . . .

These barrels are rapidly decomposing and many are exposed to rain and storm runoff.


Allison sends water from Brio into streets

When told physical evidence existed indicating water did run off from the site onto South Autumn and into the sewer system, Williamson said the EPA had not sent anyone to look at the area but would get somebody to take a look. . . .

The plan does not address tars and chemicals buried in pits because EPA does not expect top soil to be lost. "Our latest soil samplings indicate no off-site contamination or imminent health risks," said Williamson

Test results from an analysis of tarry material from the DOP Superfund site indicate the presence of volatile chemical compounds including vinyl chloride, benzyne and other chlorinated material, but not styrenes or material associated with copper recovery and hydrocarbon washing operations.

Petition for Relocation of Ball Fields begun
"Although South Belt area residents have used the fields for 15 years, little was known about DOP until this year. . . "


Billie Wolff, flood district spokeswoman, said on paper the water should flow away from the subdivision toward the lower end of Mud Gulley, but a crown (high area) at Brio could have caused a backlog of water which might have spilled back into the subdivision. 

[This backlog, of course, has been happening since the dumping for decades. It flooded once or twice, if you'll recall...]


More flooding thanks to Hurricane Chantal


EPA disagrees with private lab

"The EPA goes by the book and looks for target list compounds. If the client told me to look for priority pollutants, I wouldn't have found any."


Records reveal Brio cover-up

During the evaluation of contamination at the Brio Refinery Superfund site, Monsanto took part in the cover-up of documents and test evaluations turned over to the EPA

Documents obtained by the South-Belt Ellington Leader show Monsanto officials ordered changes in testing, purged files and destroyed documents allegedly altering the information provided for evaluation by the EPA

According to the documents, other members of the Brio Task Force knew of the cover-up and helped participate in publication of inaccurate facts concerning the levels of contamination at Brio. 

"I know for a fact there are businesses upset with the Leader for their relentless pursuit of truth about our Brio Toxic Dump. These same business owners want to stick their heads in the sand in hopes that this will make the problem disappear. They better be careful with the soil they might want to hide in. . ." 

For the past 22 months we have investigating the EPA's handling of the Brio and DOP sites. 

For a number of months we have been aware of the fact that the Brio Task Force has deliberately destroyed documents in an attempt to cover up contamination on the site. 

It is difficult to believe that this cover-up could be pulled off without EPA's knowledge. 

Just exactly what does covering up the documents mean?

By intentionally misinforming the entire community and convincing them there is no problem -- by using falsified documents they have magnified the problem many times. 

Since the heath assessments were based on the information given to EPA by the Brio Task Force, and since this information is document to at least in part be false, then there can be no faith in the heath assessment. 

Through the help of Southbend residents LeeAnn Hevert and Cheryl Finley, we have documented what appears to be an unusually high number of Southbend birth defects. 

Birth defects that doctors can only explain by saying, "I don't know why this happened, its just one of those things that happens once in a million times." But -- that on-in-a-million case occurred three times within 11 homes. 

Homes built on the site where a former employee from the toxic waste property have given affidavits and deposition saying toxic chemicals were spread. 

And what has EPA done to investigate the reports of dumping?

Absolutely nothing!

They have never contacted P.T. White who has given an affidavit to the County Attorney's office. 

All EPA has done is insist there is "no evidence of offsite contamination." This statement despite the fact that EPA has been investigating the presence of some of the same chemicals that are on Brio as possibly being on the Beamer Towers (two-story partially constructed building on Beamer across from the college) location. 

I recently had a chance to visit with fifth graders at Stuchberry Elementary. 

I played a video for them which included a taped telephone conversation of our local EPA officials in charge of the Brio site. 

Immediately upon on the end of the video presentation, one astute fifth grade boy raised his hand ans asked, "Why is the government lying to you?"

Why indeed? Not only has the South-Belt Ellington Leader been lief to, but the entire community -- Chamber of Commerce; youth baseball organizations, realtors, home buyers . . . all of us. 

Now what can we do?

Our community is fantastic. We have overcome many things working together. This included flooding problems. 

We can overcome this problem also. But to do so, we must first accept that we have been played the fool by the EPA Region VI. We can no longer hide our head in the sand and hope that this situation will go away. It will only get worse. The more time we waste, the more children and adults will suffer needless health problems. 

We must work together and demand that an honest investigation into the Brio0DOP site be done. 

Only then can this problem go away. 

We have a friend in EPA at Washington D.C. He will be a guest at a Town Meeting on Friday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the San Jacinto South Student Center auditorium.

 Friendswood buries its head in the sand.

MUD 13 fights proposed incineration of toxic waste on-site

Clark said the board feared mutagens and carcinogens would be released into the air and travel across the subdivisions within the utility district. 

A brand new area toxic waste site was leaned by the Leader last week... from EPA documents dated two years prior, despite repeated insistence Brio and DOP were the only sites in question.

Remediation proposals for the Brio Refinery and Dixie Oil Processors Super-fund sites leave an environmental toxicologist dumbfounded at the intentions of the EPA concerning the sites.

CCISD doesn't allow for health risk as an option in school transfers. 

"If a health problem existed, the EPA test results would have indicated so. We don't see any problem," said Jess Dorrington, CCISD safety officer. 

Committee Says Abandon Ballpark

"We think enough evidence exists to warranty leaving the ballfields, Too many contradictions concerning EPA testing and independent testing. We have to think of the children first. How to you explain to mothers that just on the other side of a fence, workers must dress in moon suits for protections from hazardous waste, but the kids don't need any protection? Too much contradiction exists to stay at the fields," said Bazzy.

Parents request school transfers
Citing rising air contamination levels at the school and concern for their children's health, the parents took their requests before the board. Superintendent Dr. Charles Thacker denied Tuesday morning their transfer requests saying the requests did not meet district criteria. 

"Although Clear Creek ISD administrators have requested various additional water and soil samples at Weber Elementary School in Southbend, they opted not to take a leadership role in determining the health risks for the students at the school."

Over the last year, the levels of benzene have risen each time tests were conducted at Weber . . .

With the contamination problems associated with Brio and the lack of the real truth, the number of residents living in the Southbend subdivision has dropped to the point the utility district can't pay its bond debt.


A sudden appearance of two boxes containing Monstanto documents after plaintiff's witnesses has testified show a willful holding back of facts including contaminants in the Southbend subdivision, according to documents filed in court last week in the Slaughter vs. Monstanto trial. . . .

According to the new information, incomplete shipping records from 1960 through 1977 indicate a minimum of 111 million pounds of styrene tars were sold to the companies operating the sites.

Residents Risk Exposure

"There is no safe amount of exposure for vinyl chloride," said Sherman Industry. Standards for vinyl chloride are set at two parts per billion. Pit J located adjacent to the fence line contains 22,700,000 parts per billion.


Linking health problems for Southbend residents with exposure to chemicals at the two area hazardous waste sites adjacent to the subdivision took an alarming twist with the association of birth defects to on-site testing conducted in 1987.

During incineration tests, at least six children living in a 28-house area three blocks downwind from Pit J and the incinerator were conceived. Three of the children were born with birth defects, one miscarriage occurred and one child was stillborn.

One girl was born without a uterus or ovaries; one girl was born with cysts on her ovaries and had one removed; one boy was born with hearth and lung problems along with cerebral palsy. Doctors said the stillborn child died of a rare blood disorder. In three of the cases family physicians told the parents their situation was one-in-a-million.

Toni carried Patrick to term while living in Southbend. Her daily walking exercise took her past the Brio Superfund site.  . . .

Frank said he was told little about Brio when he first moved in. He said his landlord told him there was nothing to worry about concerning the dump. The water department told him the water was fine, but to Frank the water stunk and was discolored.  . . .

The doctor's told the parents it was a one-in-a-million situation.  . . . Then Frank and Toni learned four other one-in-a-million babies lived within a four-block area of Southbend.


  1. Thanks for doing all this research and the work you put into this site. I appreciate it. Really cool.

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  4. Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into this. I am currently reading "Friendswood" by Rene Steinke and my interest was piqued. My son and I drove by the site today and were surprised to see a new subdivision (and even more new homes under construction) on the adjoining land. Folks have short memories.....and it wasn't that long ago.

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  6. I lived in that neighborhood from spring 1985 to spring 1986. i was 7 years old at the time. i remember the house and i remember the school not far from there. i also remember playing in an empty field behind the neighborhood that had what looked like unused building foundations. 12300 block of South Vale Drive.

    1. Wow...our house was on South Vale Drive and backed up to the field across from the school. 2-story grey house on the cul-de-sac. I nor my daughter were included in that lawsuit. My father's wife only included her family. My daughter and I still have health problems today.

    2. Wow...our house was on South Vale Drive and backed up to the field across from the school. 2-story grey house on the cul-de-sac. I nor my daughter were included in that lawsuit. My father's wife only included her family. My daughter and I still have health problems today.

    3. Did you know that right now they are currently building a new subdivision on that site?

  7. Someone needs to look into why they are currently building a new subdivision on site right now!

  8. I’ve been saying this for years, from what I was told in a real estate class a few years ago buyers are told it was cleaned & made to sign a disclosure. That would be red flag number one!! I grew up in South Bend my parents bought their home in 83 & from there as much as I can remember it’s been a nightmare. I get so angry seeing them building homes literally on top of the back part of SouthBend! My husband even tells me why do you get so bent out of shape? He will never understand what we went through.

  9. It is very sad and disappointed on how the Harris County are giving permits to builders to build homes there. Since most of the people living in this community do not fully know the history and the background of the adjacent land (Brio Superfund and Dixie Processor) which contains a lot of contaminated chemicals buried underground and it can be exposed to the surface.
    The other sad issue is that builder's sales people are not transparent with the information when signing new house contract which they will let you sign a lot of new house contract papers and they will have the "Brio super fund" acknowledgement document in between and they refer to it as "this is just a document to state that the adjacent plant is an industrial zone" and when the customer asks for explanation of the industrial zone/land, the answer will be we do not know it is just not part of the builder property.
    Once the customer finds out about the adjacent land and requests more about the soil testing documents or any proof that the soil where the houses are built were tested, the answer was it is not the builder responsibility, but it is the developer. When the developer is contacted he never answered his phone or call back. How is it ok for the county to allow building houses on soil that is adjacent to a contaminated area without testing the soil to verify that it is clear and not risky for people to live in. Think about it this way, you are living in your house, planting plants, kids are playing in the backyard or helping with planting and the adjacent land has chemicals buried in which for any reason it can get exposed and contaminate the underground/soil, what will be the result? Getting people sick and have them suffer with serious disease that is caused by these chemicals.
    it is so sad to see how all what sales people care about is selling the house and get your earnest/deposit money and not being honest about going over the documents that they ask their customers to sign.
    Unfortunately, humanity in this world is decreasing/vanishing and no one cares about anything except for their own benefits and making their sales regardless of people or community health.

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  16. I used to live there when I was a kid went to school at Weber Elementary my older brother used to play baseball in the fields when the pits were still open we stayed there until some of the last houses were vacant when they close down the school me and a friend snuck into the place found all the furniture still in most of the classrooms in the main office all the school records and pictures we're scattered all over the floor at that time I thought about all the years I spent there, all the wonderful teachers that taught me. as I left the building I found a picture of Miss Webber she was in a wheelchair in front of the school. it was an old picture I wish I would have kept it was in the parking lot and it looked like it had just been ran over it was sad. What really breaks my heart is I tried to Archive the old yearbooks to see all my old teachers and classmates but it seems like it's all lost. Or has been erased. I had a lot of first time memories there like first crush, first fight, first kiss xcetera... anyway I'm 40 now living in La Porte Texas with a wife,kid, house, job, band and plenty to do glad to be alive. If anybody has any the information on old yearbooks from 19 83 to close please let me know. For those of you who remember the times go Bulldogs

  17. I lived there as a child, went to Webber, played in the creek. Does anyone know of people who lived here becoming type 1 diabetics late in life? Or have water o/& soil lab results, specifically Cadium?