Texans Together‘s mission is to develop grassroots leaders in Texas and to engage and empower their communities.
On September 28th, there was a huge victory for the Highlands and the San Jacinto River communities when the EPA announced their decision to remove the waste from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
The Highlands area community residents have been struggling with toxic waste in the San Jacinto River for a long time. In 2010, Texans Together joined the fight with local residents who created the San Jacinto River Coalition (SJRC). From the start, we knew it was and was going to continue to be a long hard fight and it did not disappoint.
The SJRC’s main goal was to have the waste from the Superfund Site called the San Jacinto River Waste Pits removed from the river. The site was called “a loaded gun” pointed at the “most vulnerable of sites.” The polluting companies wanted to leave the waste in the river under an “Armored Cap.” Their studies showed it would be safer and, of course, cheaper.
Through the outreach efforts of the SJRC, it went from a few individuals in a parking lot educating the community to monthly packed community meetings. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services, Media Organization, and other Environmental Groups have attended and presented at the meetings.
There were long days with volunteers speaking with seriously ill residents that were skeptical or outright hostile to their efforts. Canvassers told stories of skeptics recounting terrible illnesses that affected them and their neighbors, but denying there was a problem. It had become normal for the community to see so many cases of illnesses, rare cancers, and diseases. They thought that was “just the way it was” and were hostile to people who might stir up trouble for them.
In 2010, Jackie Young began volunteering with the SJRC. After her and her family’s serious health problems, she began to research what was happening and it brought her to a degree in Environmental Geology and Texans Together.
As a volunteer, she told her story to the community and explained exactly how abnormal things really were. In 2013, she was hired by Texans Together to lead the coalition. She brought firsthand knowledge, passion, and a dedication to get justice for her community.
Jackie used her contacts in academia to get an independent study done of the site, and brought in an environmental activist, Lois Gibbs of Love Canal fame, to bring attention to the cause. Jackie’s work was featured on Fox News, and Al Jazeera America, and in Texas Monthly, Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle. She testified in front of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, and the Texas Legislature. She led the SJRC to work with public officials to petition for health studies, to bring a lawsuit against the companies responsible for the waste, and to remove the waste. The persistent effort of the community with Jackie’s leadership led to the SJRC moving to her new organization, Texas Health and Environmental Alliance (THEA).
For more information about this decisive victory for environmental justice follow this link: http://txhea.org/
Congratulations to the Highlands Community, Jackie Young, and dedicated volunteers in the SJRC. You made change happen!
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