Jackie Young-Medcalf Won’t Stop Fighting for the Environment

STARING OUT AT THE SAN JACINTO RIVER burbling lazily alongside Meadowbrook Park’s edge, it’s onerous to think about that something about this place could possibly be harmful. However then the odor fills Jackie Younger-Medcalf’s nostrils, and peering alongside the curve of the river, she will virtually see the notorious San Jacinto Waste Pits, the decades-old EPA Superfund web site {that a} paper mill packed stuffed with dioxin and different carcinogenic poisonous waste many years in the past. “You realize, even with all of the warning indicators up, individuals nonetheless truly fish right here,” she says.

Younger-Medcalf, government director and founding father of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance, a nonprofit that goals to tell and defend communities affected by poisonous waste websites, stares onerous on the water transferring towards the waste pits, figuring out it’s going to stream into native effectively traces and flood the bottom throughout hurricanes and tropical storms. Environmental activist isn’t a job the 33-year-old former mannequin and sweetness queen ever anticipated to play. If it weren’t for these waste pits, her life may need been completely totally different.

Younger-Medcalf grew up in Atascocita, and by her early teenagers she was a star hurdler at Humble Excessive Faculty, weighing out whether or not she ought to go straight to school as soon as she graduated or strive her hand at modeling, following in her mom’s footsteps.

Her household’s 2003 transfer to the Highlands modified every thing. The sprawling home—inbuilt a neighborhood close to the San Jacinto on rather a lot so giant they referred to as it “the ranch”—was their dream dwelling, however inside a 12 months of taking over residence, Younger-Medcalf began experiencing a slew of well being issues. She was plagued with gastrointestinal points—sufficient to warrant a colonoscopy at age 18—and continual knee ache that ended her hurdling profession. Docs couldn’t discover the reason for these illnesses, however when she graduated she determined to maneuver to San Diego to provide modeling a go.

She was making good cash, largely with company gigs, however the well being points continued. Her stepfather started affected by signs that may later be recognized as a number of myeloma, and he or she moved again dwelling in 2008 due to her personal well being issues. She began taking faculty courses whereas persevering with to mannequin, turning into Miss Darque Tan 2009, together with her face plastered on a Houston billboard that she noticed each time she drove into the town.

That picture of a gleaming, sun-kissed girl quickly turned virtually laughable as her well being started declining once more, this time with even worse fatigue, extra gastrointestinal points, and kidney infections with no discernible trigger. In 2010, shortly after incomes her affiliate diploma in pure sciences from Lee School in Baytown, she had her first seizure. Once more docs couldn’t clarify the incident. “I might lay in mattress at evening terrified,” she says now.

By the subsequent 12 months she was averaging a seizure a day, weighed simply 90 kilos, and had pores and skin lesions throughout her physique. Docs had been mystified, and as Younger-Medcalf continued to develop weaker, she was terrified that no matter was inflicting this is able to in the end kill her.

Then in mid-2011 a KHOU report on Houston’s radioactive faucet water caught her consideration. She did a case examine in her UH-Clear Lake hydrology class, evaluating Houston water with that in her household’s effectively, which had been described as “pristine” once they purchased the home.


Metallic particles, seen to the bare eye, floated within the water. “My professor checked out me and stated, ‘That’s steel. It’s important to get examined for steel, as a result of that will be the place your seizures are coming from.’”

Ingesting heavy metals reminiscent of mercury, lead, and arsenic can harm the mind, kidneys, and different organs, in addition to the composition of your blood, in response to the National Institutes of Health. When she had her bloodwork performed, Younger-Medcalf examined constructive for 19 of 21 heavy metals.

That very same 12 months she started knocking on her neighbors’ doorways to warn them that she believed the water they had been consuming may give them most cancers or different well being issues. “The primary time I had two doorways slammed in my face,” she says. “They stated, ‘You’ll by no means get something performed,’ and I’ll always remember, I stated, ‘Nicely, you don’t know me, as a result of I’m not giving up.’”

Her household, who’d already modified their water supply, moved in 2013, and the financial institution foreclosed on the home the subsequent 12 months, about the identical time that Harris County reached a settlement for greater than $20 million with two of the businesses sued over the waste pits. Younger-Medcalf acquired her bachelor’s diploma and started working for the San Jacinto River Coalition, which educates the general public in regards to the waste pits, and in 2015 she began THEA, all of the whereas knocking on doorways. Slowly she realized that almost everybody on the town had skilled comparable well being issues. She began lobbying lawmakers, and joined a class action lawsuit alleging negligence in opposition to McGinnes and Waste Administration, two of the businesses that beforehand owned the pits, in 2016.

In October 2017 Environmental Safety Company regulators announced plans to take away the poisonous contents of the pits completely. The EPA is slated to start a $115 million web site remediation by late 2021.

Now the individuals who as soon as doubted Younger-Medcalf attend her month-to-month conferences, and he or she represents them in quarterly conferences with the EPA, speaking with public officers to push for milestones within the cleanup course of, like FEMA shopping for out her former neighbors from their dioxin-polluted properties over in Channelview. She additionally advocates for Fifth Ward residents dwelling close to the Union Pacific contamination web site, which left the bottom there saturated with creosote.

At these conferences with EPA and different authorities officers, she’s typically the one girl within the room, positively the youngest, and definitely the one billboard mannequin. She performs that to her benefit.

“I’ve completely been in conditions the place persons are like, ‘Who’s this little woman? Who’s this blond?’” she says. “I sit again and go, ‘That’s wonderful, they will suppose that,’ and after I open my mouth and I do know what I’m speaking about, they may have a distinct opinion.”

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