County sues over dioxin

More like this, please.

Harris County has filed a lawsuit in state court to recover hundreds of millions of dollars from local waste management companies and a Pasadena paper factory responsible for storage of a human carcinogen that has leaked into the San Jacinto River.

Named as defendants in the action, which seeks penalties of up to $25,000 a day dating to 1965, are McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Co., Waste Management Inc., Waste Management of Texas and International Paper Co.

The lawsuit, announced Tuesday by County Attorney Vince Ryan, centers on riverside waste disposal pits near the Interstate 10-San Jacinto River crossing opened in 1965 to contain dioxin, a toxic byproduct of paper production.

Here’s a more detailed version of the story.

“The day of reckoning is here,” said Rock Owens, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s lead lawyer on the case. “These penalties are there to punish, to send a message. … We’re asking these companies to atone for what they’ve done.”


A byproduct of bleaching paper, dioxin is a human carcinogen so potent that it is measured in trillionths of a gram. Tests of river mud near the site have found dioxin concentrations in excess of 41,000 parts per trillion. Of the fish and crab samples collected near the dump, 95 percent found to be were dangerously contaminated.

McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. for nine months deposited waste from a Pasadena paper factory at the dump, which was swamped by the river as land subsided. The factory is no longer open.

The long-lived toxin, which also causes reproduction and immune system problems, is stored in body fat and increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain.

The EPA says no amount of exposure is safe.


Evelyn Merz, Houston Sierra Club conservation chairwoman, lauded the county lawsuit, saying that Ryan’s office – faced with little action taken by the state – had adopted an appropriately aggressive strategy.

She expressed concern, however, that the county might devote an inordinately large amount of its potential award to efforts to educate the public about dangers at the site. Rather, Merz suggested, such money should go toward financing attempts to stabilize and end erosion.

“It certainly hasn’t taken millions of dollars to put up signs,” she said. “It doesn’t take millions for a public ad campaign.”

I’d just like to note for the record that “Rock Owens” is a totally awesome name. You can see a copy of the suit here. As Hair Balls notes, this was designated a Superfund cleanup site three years ago, and has been considered a health hazard by state officials for years. Given how longstanding these problems are, I don’t know that it’s possible to properly redress the damage, but one hopes we’ll get something out of this. It’s long past time for the parties that have been imposing these costs on the public to be held accountable for them.

I’d like to point you to more information on this from the County Attorney’s office, but unfortunately the County Attorney webpage only has a link to the Chron story, while their underutilized Facebook page has nada. Consider this my gentle reminder to them to get with the program already.

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One Response to County sues over dioxin

  1. being as I live a couple of miles from there I have been following this for a long time. I am glad the county is stepping up, but I still can’t believe they aren’t stopping people from being there. Almost every day you can see people fishing or crabbing right next to that spot. Since that whole area floods the dioxins are all over the place there. I haven’t been down there close enough to look but I would hope there is at least a sign up there. This is also part of the reason they say don’t keep any fish or crabs caught north of the hartmann bridge, this area is not too far from the mouth of the SJ river where it goes into trinity bay. This can affect the entire galveston bay system as it goes right into the ship channel. They also put some kind of a concrete platform there, don’t know what it is but I hope it has something to do with trying to clean it up.

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