Big Win: City of South Houston Continues Mercury Testing

Kristen Schlemmer | January 17, 2020

Earlier this week, the City Council for the City of South Houston voted to continue mercury testing at its wastewater treatment plant located along Berry Creek, which feeds into Sims Bayou and onto Galveston Bay. This vote is the culmination of a legal challenge by Bayou City Waterkeeper and its partners that began in late 2018.

Bayou City Waterkeeper, representing more than 80 of its supporters living in the area, challenged the City of South Houston’s request to stop all monitoring for mercury at its wastewater plant. Joining us in our legal efforts was Caring for Pasadena Communities, an organization dedicated to rooting out environmental injustices in Southeast Houston. Caring for Pasadena Communities was represented throughout these proceedings by Lone Star Legal Aid.

These organizations and individuals raised serious concerns that ending mercury testing would create new risks to public health and the health of wildlife, particularly along ecologically sensitive waterways. In particular, Bayou City Waterkeeper and its partners were concerned about the serious risks that even small amounts of mercury can pose to human health.

After an administrative law judge ordered the challenge to move forward to trial, the parties were able to reach a settlement that protects public health, wildlife, and local ecology. Under the agreement, the City of South Houston will continue testing for mercury on a weekly basis. The City Council’s vote this week makes the settlement agreement legally binding for the next five years.

Kristen Schlemmer, our Legal Director, represented Bayou City Waterkeeper in this permit challenge. As quoted in the Houston Chronicle, Kristen says: “This agreement is a win for the residents living along Berry Creek and Sims Bayou immediately downstream of South Houston’s wastewater treatment facility, as well as birds and other wildlife that call this stretch of bayou home… Weekly testing required under the agreement will make sure that if mercury leaves South Houston’s facility at levels posing potential threats to public health or the environment, we will know about it and can take action.”

Rodrigo Cantu, the Lone Star Legal Aid attorney representing Caring for Pasadena Communities, told the Chronicle: “The agreement reached keeps in place an important safeguard and speaks to the value of community involvement and input in matters that affect their environment.”

Read the Chronicle’s article to learn more.