HOUSTON (CN) – International Paper and Waste Management of Texas polluted the San Jacinto River for decades by abandoning retention ponds filled with dioxin waste from IP’s paper mill, a dozen crab fishermen claim in Harris County Court.
Lead plaintiff Dao Van Pho sued International Paper Co., Waste Management and its predecessor, McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., seeking punitive damages and medical monitoring for their exposure to dioxin.
The plaintiffs say the problem began 1965, when McGinnes bagged an exclusive contract to dispose waste from the Champion Paper Mill in Pasadena, Texas.
“While Champion (now defendant International Paper) made money by selling its paper, its paper mill produced as a dangerous byproduct 2,3,7,8-TCDD, as well as other dioxins, that Champion sought to dispose,” the complaint states.
“Champion chose to have its dioxin waste dumped into ponds by MIMC located in the area where the Interstate Highway 10 Bridge crosses over the San Jacinto River, east of the city of Houston between the areas known as Channelview and Highlands, Texas (the ‘Site’).
“MIMC constructed its waste ponds so that they were directly adjacent to, and jutting out into, the San Jacinto River.
“Records indicated that the waste ponds were frequently inundated by the river. In addition to the fact that the dioxin waste seeped from the ponds into the river, records show that liquid waste was also intentionally pumped out of one of the ponds at the site, directly into the San Jacinto River.
“MIMC and Champion were ordered to stop discharging waste from the ponds into the San Jacinto River, though the subsequent records show that wastes continued to seep from the ponds and the pond levees deteriorated causing continuous release of dioxin over the following years and decades.”
The crabbers say the companies later abandoned the ponds, allowing dioxin to “quietly seep” into the environment as parts of the ponds were submerged by the river. They say the pollution has created an ecological nightmare for the site and its environs.
“Data collected by Texas state agencies in various watershed studies have indicated that fish and shellfish tissue samples taken in the San Jacinto River contain unusually high dioxin concentrations and exceeded the health-based standard in 97 percent of fish samples and in 95 percent of the crab samples,” according to the complaint.
The pollution has caused authorities to warn nursing or pregnant women and children younger that 12 not to eat any fish or crab from the area, the crabbers say.
“All others are advised to consume no more than 8 ounces of certain fish within any given month,” the complaint states. “Adults and children are also advised to avoid the risk of exposure through skin contact by not camping, fishing or picnicking near the site.
“Further testing and chemical analysis confirm that both human and ecological health are threatened by releases of dioxin from the site and that defendants’ dioxin continues to migrate from the waste ponds into the San Jacinto River.
“In 2008, at the urging of Harris County and others, the San Jacinto River site was ultimately placed on the National Priorities List for Superfund Sites.”
The crabbers want the giant companies held responsible.
“Defendants achieved a tremendous economic benefit by leaving fishermen and crabbers holding their waste while they pocketed the profits saved from not having to pay for proper disposal, putting them at a competitive advantage over other responsible companies,” the complaint states.
In a footnote, the complaint adds: “In 2010 alone International reported over $644 million in net profits and $25 billion in assets, and defendant Waste Management reported over $950 million in net profits and $21 billion in assets.”
The crabbers seek damages for negligence, trespass, nuisance and conspiracy.
They also want medical monitoring, for their “increased risk of future adverse health effects, ailments and potential increased risk of cancer.”
They are represented by Marc Hill with Hill & Hill of Houston; Tom Thornhill of Slidell, La.; Ba Nguyen with Levinthal Wilkens & Nguyen of Houston; and The Tammy Tran Law Firm in Houston.