Harris County sues companies over river pollution

December 27, 2011 3:52:36 PM PST
Harris County is now suing local waste companies and a paper factory, accusing them of polluting the San Jacinto River. The suit claims that chemicals from waste disposal pits leak into the water and have been doing so for years.

The county is constantly monitoring the dioxin levels in the water and in the fish. Now they're seeking punishment for the companies they believe responsible for releasing the dangerous chemical in the first place.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has filed suit, claiming the San Jacinto River has been so contaminated that fish and crabs caught here are unsafe to eat and it's dangerous to swim in the water.

"These companies, the responsible parties, just dumped it there because they could," Ryan said. "Just dumped it there."

Ryan has filed suit in state court attempting to recover hundreds of millions of dollars from local waste management companies and a paper factory allegedly responsible for the pollution of the river since 1965. The suit names International Paper Company, Waste Management and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation, accusing them of a "...legacy of pollution...", claiming they disposed of highly toxic chemicals from the paper mill in waste pits located on the banks of the San Jacinto River, that the pits leaked into the river for decades and were ultimately abandoned.

Three years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency declared the now submerged pits a Superfund cleanup site.

The suit seeks penalties of up to $25,000 a day. County Attorney Ryan says it's time those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

He said, "These parties were aware of it but did nothing about it."

Those living nearby say it's frustrating that they have to live in fear for their health.

"It could be a wonderful place but I'm afraid to go in it," said homeowner Sharon Graves.

An official with Waste Management says they were never involved with the disposal here and that "...the disposal operations that occurred were under the appropriate governmental authorization in place at the time."

Spokespeople for both Waste Management and International Paper Company say they have not yet seen the suit so they cannot comment further.

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