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Why Is a Dump for Hurricane Harvey Debris Next to an African American Community?


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Tami Thomas-Pinkney’s house in Port Arthur, Texas, was not damaged when Hurricane Harvey soaked the city with up to 28 inches of rain on August 29. But now, a month and a half after the storm, she is preparing to move. Across the street from her family’s home is a temporary dumpsite for storm debris, which she says is endangering her family’s health and making her home unlivable. 

Countless trucks haul the debris —ruined building material ripped from storm-damaged homes and household belongings previously submerged in floodwater but now covered with mold — past her house. Each day they rattle down the streets around Thomas-Pinkney, dumping their loads about a hundred feet from her front porch. 

She understands that after a disaster like Harvey, the city has to do something with the debris but is outraged that officials think it’s acceptable to dump it so close to a predominantly low-income African American neighborhood with a large elderly population.

Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman said on his Facebook page that TCEQ confirmed that the temporary dump site, known as a “Debris Management Site,” is not  “jeopardizing our citizens’ health.” The site is one of many set up after Harvey, where storm debris is sorted before being moved to a landfill. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQclaims that if the dump site is properly managed, it is not a health hazard.

But Catherine Dinn, a lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid, said from what she has seen on her own visit to the dump, it isn’t being managed properly. The workers aren’t wearing protective gear, and there are no platforms for spotters to monitor the debris during unloading. In addition, she said the city is not testing for airborne particles and potentially hazardous material that could leach into the ground, and she doesn’t think state regulators are either. TCEQ confirmed that it is not performing any contaminant testing at the dump.


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