Waste Management, Intl Paper agree to fund dioxin removal on San Jacinto

The giant companies responsible for tons of dioxin waste dumped near, and now within, the San Jacinto River have agreed to a $115 million plan to completely remove the cancer causing material.

The Environmental Protection Agency settlement with International Paper and a subsidiary of Houston based Waste Management signals the beginning of a multiple-year project to systematically extract as many as 17,000 truckloads of toxic material.

Jackie Young of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance has led a seven-year campaign for removal.

"This is huge for our community. These companies have fought us. This announcement that they have agreed to clean it up the best way possible means that the public will not have to worry about this for future generations," said Young.

Over multiple years of coverage, FOX 26 has documented the concerns of hundreds of citizens in the Highlands community, many of whom attribute extraordinary cancer rates to escaped Dioxin from the dump.

Scott Jones of the Galveston Bay Foundation believes the settlement marks the end of the fighting and the beginning of a solution.

"We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when one day this waste will actually be removed. It's still going to take two years to do the remedial design and then two years to remove the waste, but anybody that enjoys fishing or recreating on the Bay should feel good about this," said Jones.

On its settlement with the EPA International Paper said, “The company is committed to protecting public health and the environment and we believe that remediation planning for the San Jacinto site must be rigorous, transparent and science-based and lead to engineering standards that will protect the river and the community. We look forward to continuing to work with the EPA and other stakeholders to perform the remedial design under the administrative order.”

For its part, Waste Management subsidiary McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation said, "MIMC has engaged constructively with the EPA throughout its process to identify the remedy for the San Jacinto Superfund site. We will continue to work collaboratively with the EPA and other responsible parties to ensure a safe, protective and effective remedial design for the site."

Congressman Pete Olson welcomed the EPA announcement saying "Our community deserves to know the water is clean and safe."

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan says he will be keeping a close eye on the clean-up process.

"Those companies are the ones responsible for putting over 200,000 cubic yards of dangerous waste chemicals in pits near the San Jacinto River.  They will pay for the cleanup," said Ryan.