Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jury Selection Underway In $1 Billion Pollution Trial
Is it a carefully contained storage facility that's done negligible harm to the public or a potentially lethal bio-hazard that's been leaking cancer causing poison for decades?
That's what a Houston jury will decide over the next two months as a lawsuit brought by Harris County goes to trial seeking close to $1 billion worth of penalties for past pollution from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
"Those violations consist of putting that stuff in the river, next to the river and walking off and leaving it and not doing anything to it, not warning the public about it, not cleaning it up and allowing it to seep in the river and flow in the river for more than 40 years," said Rock Owens, Assistant Harris County Attorney, in a May 6 interview with Fox 26.
Houston based Waste Management and International Paper bear responsibility for the toxic waste, a liability acquired with their purchase of the companies that actually did the dumping.
While it's not certain exactly how many tons of dioxin bearing material are buried under the banks and even beneath the water of the San Jacinto, it has been estimated complete removal would require 17,500 truckloads.
Attorneys for Waste Management and International Paper are expected to present water and soil samples collected by the EPA which indicate Dioxin levels surrounding the Superfund site are safe and no worse than other areas of Houston.
But many in the adjacent communities disagree arguing floodwaters that engulfed the waste pits flowed through their homes and neighborhoods long before the pits were capped with plastic and rock.
"My family's health was never the same after Hurricane Ike, at the time there was nothing protecting the waste, it was just openly exposed in the river," said Jackie Young of the San Jacinto River Coalition.
An "armored cap" of plastic and rock was installed at the pits in 2011.
Fish near the Superfund site have tested positive for Dioxin, although it's unclear whether the contamination came from the waste pits or discharge from other sources on the river.
While International Paper declined comment for publication, representatives spoke to Fox 26 on background.
A spokesperson for Waste Management declined comment.
The trial is being conducted in the 295th District Court with Judge Caroline Baker presiding.

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