EPA to potentially close lab in Houston, despite Harvey raising contamination worries

People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas

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People make their way out of a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas

The Environmental Protection Agency will not renew the lease on a building that houses a regional lab in Houston, stirring concern among staff that the facility in the heart of the nation’s oil-refining and chemicals hub will be closed.

This comes after Hurricane Harvey flooded several of the region’s Superfund sites, contaminated areas designated for federal cleanup, the Associated Press reported this month. The Houston metro area has more than a dozen of the sites, making it one of the country’s most contaminated places, according to AP.

The EPA will allow the lease to expire on Houston’s Region 6 Environmental Services Laboratory in 2020, officials at the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employees union, told the Houston Chronicle. The facility employs 50 people, serves five states and tests samples from Superfund sites, according to the Chronicle.

Following devastating flooding, the lab has been an EPA staging area, and employees have been told they will perform water tests in the wake of the disaster, the Chronicle reported. The nearest lab is 400 miles away in Ada, Oklahoma.

“We have a laboratory in Houston that is state of the art and is situated directly in an industrial petrochemical complex. And that laboratory is slated for closure. Why? How much money are we going to save with that?” John O’Grady, president of AFGE National Council of EPA Locals #238, said at a recent press conference in Washington.

David Gray, acting deputy regional administrator for Region 6, confirmed that the EPA will not renew the lease on that facility, but suggested the union was jumping to conclusions.

“We are looking at alternatives that will continue to provide the analytical services to support our mission-critical work in the Dallas office,” he told the Chronicle.

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