An appeals court ruling has cleared the way for Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s legal team to proceed with a lawsuit alleging that the San Jacinto River has been polluted with the dangerous chemical dioxin. The companies being sued by Ryan had tried to prevent the County Attorney from hiring outside counsel to assist with the lawsuit.
However, the First Court of Appeals today rejected the companies’ arguments, ruling that the County had the right to hire the law firm of Connelly Baker Wotring LLP because the County’s lawyers retained ultimate control over the conduct of the case. “The ruling affirms the County’s right and my duty to assemble the best team of public and private lawyers I can to protect the public health and safety of our community, especially when the defendants have virtually no limit on what they can spend to fight the people of Harris County,” said County Attorney Ryan.
“I look forward to vigorously pursuing this threat to human life and our ecological system,” Ryan continued. “The people of Harris County do not think it is acceptable for the culpable companies to wash their hands of their massive dioxin pollution.”
Ryan sued International Paper Company, Waste Management Inc. and Waste Management of Texas in 2011 seeking more than $ 1 billion in civil penalties for the pollution of the San Jacinto River. The County alleges that in the 1960s huge quantities of paper mill waste containing dioxin, the most poisonous chemical made by man, were dumped into pits along the river. The lawsuit claims the companies failed to disclose the abandoned waste for 40 years as it polluted the San Jacinto River and Upper Galveston Bay.
Dioxin can cause cancer and birth defects. The Texas Department of State Health Services warns women who are nursing, pregnant or who might be pregnant and children under the age of 12 not to consume fish or blue crab from the area.
The Department has issued a consumption advisory for blue crab, cat fish and spotted sea trout from the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay. The Department has also advised adults and children to avoid the risk of exposure to dioxin through skin by not camping, fishing, or picnicking near the San Jacinto River where the toxic waste ponds are located.
Despite the many warning signs posted along the river, people continue to fish and swim in contaminated waters.