No swimming thanks to Waste Management.
Study shows San Jacinto River still highly contaminated.
[cleeng_content id="608022629" description="Why stop now? It's just getting interesting!" price="0.99" referral="0.10"]Releasing a new study on the contamination of the San Jacinto River, the advocacy group Texans Together and the volunteer group San Jacinto River Coalition used the San Jacinto Monument as a backdrop Thursday, May 31, to urge residents not to swim in or eat fish from the river.
“We’re here in front of the San Jacinto Monument because of the importance of the great victory for Texans that occurred here,” said Fred Lewis, president of Texans Together.
“What’s also nearby is something of great shame for the citizens of Texas.”
The independent study by Houston toxicologist Dr. Stephen King found high levels of toxic dioxin and furan in fish and oyster near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, which are located near the Interstate-10 bridge.
King in his report recommends that “wading, swimming, fishing, crabbing, and collecting oysters and clams should be banned” in proximity of the waste pits.
Toxicity levels are similar to those found by governmental authorities in 1990 and 2005, according to the report.
Currently, signs on a fence around the site advise against eating fish and crabs from the area. Further downstream, signs recommend adults eat no more than 8 ounces of any fish or blue crab from the river per month, and advise children and pregnant women not to eat any at all.
“To summarize Dr. King’s report: The cat is out of the bag,” Lewis said. “In other words: the dioxin is out of the waste pits – a good bit of it – and is now in the river, still contaminating the fish and the environment.”
Terence O’Rourke, first assistant Harris County Attorney, called dioxin “the most toxic material ever made by our species.”
Harris County has sued Waste Management and International Paper Co., successor to Champion Papers Inc., the company that had its paper mill waste dispose in ponds on the banks of the San Jacinto River in the 1960s. Waste Management owns the site previously owned by McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., which is also listed as a defendant in the suit.
The Harris County Attorney’s Office is asking for $25,000 per day that the contamination occurred.
The defendants argue that they have cooperated with Harris County, the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for years on the river cleanup and have spent millions of dollars on it. They also claim Harris County has no standing to bring the suit.
Over the years, the river submerged the ponds and the toxic waste was released into the stream, according to the lawsuit.
In 2005, the TCEQ got involved in the site after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department became aware of the waste pits. As part of its Superfund program, the EPA added the site to its National Priorities List in March 2008 and erected a fence with warning signs around it in 2010, while working on the cleanup.
In spring 2011, Waste Management and International Paper Co. placed an armored cap over the waste pits to temporarily address the release of dioxin into the San Jacinto River.
Sarah Davis with the San Jacinto River Coalition, a group composed of mostly Highlands and Channelview residents, said her organization is not satisfied with temporary solutions.
“What we want is immediate and permanent remediation.”
She said the pollution is not fair to homeowners along the river, who bought their houses because they wanted to use the river for recreation, which is no longer possible. The river’s contamination also devalues their homes, Davis said.
The San Jacinto River Coalition is holding an open meeting on Thursday, June 14, at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Highlands, to which everyone who is interested is invited.
“Our power is in our voices,” Davis said.