Quebedeaux, Walter Arnim, Jr. (1915–1976)

By: Ron Bass

Type: Biography

Published: August 28, 2019

Walter Arnim Quebedeaux, Jr., scientist, attorney, and pioneer in environmental protection, revolutionized pollution control in Houston and Harris County and created a national model for pollution control enforcement. He was born in Georgetown, Texas, on April 1, 1915, and was the son of Walter A. Quebedeaux, Sr., and Mabel (Taylor) Quebedeaux. He grew up in Georgetown and attended Georgetown High School. He studied at Southwestern University and earned a B.S. in chemistry and B.A. in math before enrolling at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received an M.A. (1937) and Ph. D. (1940) in chemistry and a B.S. in chemical engineering (1940). Quebedeaux later earned a Juris Doctor degree from the South Texas School of Law in 1968. According to U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs records, he served in the military for approximately a year, from July 1945 to June 1946.

Early in his career, Quebedeaux worked in several positions in the field of chemistry. In New York and Missouri he worked as a research chemist and operated his own chemical analysis laboratory in St. Louis, Missouri. Back in Texas, he worked as a research engineer. He later joined Champion coated paper company as its air and stream pollution director.

In 1954 he became director of Air and Water Pollution Control of the newly-established Harris County Health Department at a time when (even as late as the early 1970s) pollution control was in its infancy at both the state and national levels. Quebedeaux transformed pollution control in Harris County by conscientiously and aggressively enforcing pollution laws. His uncompromising methods included a “most wanted” list, and he took his cases directly to the city council and on television. He received little support from the state of Texas or the city of Houston, which saw his work as incompatible with Houston’s economic growth. Even so, Quebedeaux was acknowledged as one of the nation's leading authorities on pollution control, and his accomplishments and methods set the standard for what could be achieved with sheer persistence and quality work. Using powers granted to county and district attorneys under the Texas Water Quality Act of 1967, Quebedeaux persuaded county attorneys in Houston to sue some of the worst polluters of the Houston Ship Channel.

In addition to battling with industries on the ship channel, Quebedeaux also took on problems at the city of Houston’s sewage treatment plants. He relied on the city’s own reports to the Texas Water Quality Board to establish violations. In 1964 Quebedeaux observed that Houston’s “sewage-treatment plants worked poorly, twenty-two operated at near capacity or beyond, and twenty-one emitted noxious odors.” He was appointed director of the Harris County Pollution Control Department in nearby Pasadena in 1971.

Walter A. Quebedeaux, Jr., died of a heart attack at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston on November 7, 1976. His body was donated to Baylor College of Medicine for medical research. He was survived by his wife Genevieve (Mowad) Quebedeaux. In Houston, he is remembered in Quebedeaux Park, on the northeast corner of Fannin and Congress, with his image and biography on a plaque. Ironically, in 2012 rats temporarily overran the park and fed on scraps of food left by the homeless who occupied the park during the day.

John L. Hill with Ernie Stromberger, John Hill for the State of Texas: My Years as Attorney General (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Dr. W. A. Quebedeaux Environmental Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Susan Smyer, “City of Houston Wastewater History,” May 2008 (https://edocs.publicworks.houstontx.gov/documents/divisions/utilities/history_waste_water_operations.pdf), accessed August 28, 2019. David Todd and David Weisman, eds., The Texas Legacy Project: Stories of Courage & Conservation (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010). 

  • Science
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Urbanization
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ron Bass, “Quebedeaux, Walter Arnim, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/quebedeaux-walter-arnim-jr.

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August 28, 2019

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