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Silver Lining in Tragic Data

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits, an EPA Superfund site that is contaminated with dioxins, is located on Interstate 10 east of Houston.  Photo by Michael Stravato

Friday, June 19, 2015 Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) released the cancer database investigation report that the San Jacinto River Coalition has patiently waited for. Along with the data was an unprecedented announcement for TX DSHS. In over 400 similar database investigations, this is the first time that the State of Texas is actually going to conduct further investigation into the health of specific communities. This is not only a victory for the Coalition and residents of East Harris County, but a major victory for public health.

Report confirms: Removal of Waste in Pits Best

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, Jacquelyn Young of the San Jacinto River Coalition and Dr. Kathleen Garland, a Geologist and Environmental Management Expert, held a press conference at 11:00 a.m. at the Houston Public Library’s Concourse meeting room located at 500 McKinney St, Houston, TX. Dr. Garland presented her findings from her newly released report The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site: An Assessment of Remedial Options for Sites with Dioxin-contaminated Sediments with Implications for Remedy Selection at the San Jacinto Site.


Bring the Money Back

Following Harris County’s settlement in the Waste Pits litigation, rumors and concerns began circulating the communities surrounding the Pits. To address these issues, the leaders of the San Jacinto River Coalition began meeting with elected officials in search of answers and support. We are working to ensure that the settlement funds be put to use exclusively in the communities most impacted by the Site.

San Jacinto River Coalition's Accomplishments 2014 and Looking Ahead

Photo By Julio Cortez/Chronicle

The San Jacinto River Coalition has established a strong leadership group, broad bi-partisan support from elected officials, and over one thousand supporters. Citizens regularly fill government meetings to capacity. In 

January 2014, the EPA called a special community meeting at the Coalition’s request to update the residents. Two hundred community members appeared on a cold weekday night in far eastern Harris County, closely questioning the EPA and calling for full remediation. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan credits the Coalition for moving the EPA to seriously consider that the Waste Pits’ toxic wastes be fully removed. 

Vince Ryan’s Message to Highlands Rotary Club

Harris County Attorney, Vince Ryan, recently addressed Highlands’ Rotary Club at their monthly luncheon. Mr. Ryan’s guest appearance was timed perfectly following a controversial end to Harris County’s lawsuit over the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, which are located in Highlands. Harris County and the State of Texas pursued over $3 billion in penalties from the companies responsible for the Waste Pits- International Paper, Waste Management of Texas, and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation (MIMC). After a four week trial, Waste Management of Texas and MIMC settled with the plaintiffs for $29.2 million before closing arguments were made. Following closing arguments November 13, 2014, the jury found International Paper (the company that created and abandoned the waste) not guilty. Mr. Ryan told the Rotary that Harris County plans to appeal the verdict for International Paper due to rulings in the trial that protected the company.

San Jacinto River Waste Pits Trial is Over, EPA Still Moving Forward

Just one month after Harris County’s trial began over the alleged release of toxic waste from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, a settlement and jury verdict was reached. The Waste Pits trial was expected to proceed for several months but substantial amounts of the County’s scientific evidence was excluded from the trial, allowing it to move much quicker than expected. Closing arguments took place Thursday, November 13, 2014.

Clean Our Waters: Latest on San Jacinto Waste Pits Trial

October 16, 2014 as opening statements were made for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits trial, the Harris County Civil Courtroom was overflowing with eager attendees. Among those attendees were community members who unknowingly lived by the Pits and representatives of the several hundred Vietnamese Fishermen who commercially fished/crabbed adjacent to the pits for decades. The pain of these people was evident in their faces. We have all anxiously awaited the start of this historical trial and the first week was nothing shy of an opening salvo from the coming pitched battle.

The Waste Pits, created in 1965 by Champion Paper and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation, were discovered by State of Texas officials in 2005 when they found astronomic levels of dioxin in the San Jacinto River near the Interstate 10 Bridge. The Site was then listed as a Federal Superfund Site on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Priority List (NPL). In 2011 Harris County and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) filed suit for 35 years of alleged violations at the Waste Pits from Waste Management of Texas, International Paper, and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation (MIMC).

The Reason I Fight

Today is a very sad day for family, friends, and community members of East Harris County. Early this morning Raymond Stephen, a resident of Channelview, TX, lost his battle to a kidney disease. Raymond was only 24 years old. I met Raymond last winter when I visited him in Baytown’s Methodist Hospital. In the short time that I knew Raymond, his visits to that hospital were all too frequent. We talked about his memories growing up in Channelview; fishing, swimming, and playing in the River Bottom. He even told me stories about having “mud fights” in the Waste Pits as a kid. Raymond was loved by many and it was an honor for me to talk with him and his father. At one of our monthly Coalition meetings, I asked Coalition members to tell me their goals working with the Coalition and Raymond said “if this is what made my kidneys fail so early, we need to get something done."

Court Tells One Chemical Corp to Pay for Their Mess, Will Waste Management & International Paper Be Next?

Just weeks before the trial begins in Harris County for damages to the San Jacinto River, Occidental Chemical Corp. settled for at $190 million for damages to the Passaic River in New Jersey. Like the defendants in the Harris County case, Occidental allegedly intentionally dumped hazardous chemicals into the river, causing environmental contamination and a consumption ban on fish from the river. Pollution laws exist because toxic and carcinogenic chemicals should not be carelessly dumped on our precious environment. Although our environment may never fully recover from the toxic burden of industrial pollution, remediation will remove the source of contamination and help restore the environment. And with the Passaic settlement, it will not be at the tax payer’s expense. The recent victory at the Passaic River serves not only to benefit remediation costs and safeguard tax payer’s hard earned dollars, but also as a victory to all of us that are working to hold industrial polluters accountable for contaminating the environment. On October 16, 2014, Harris County’s trial begins and a jury will decide if Waste Management, International Paper, and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation will be held accountable for contaminating the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay’s precious estuary. 

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