County Attorney Ryan’s billion dollar San Jacinto River dioxin lawsuit moved back to state court

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan standing on the Waste Pits by the San Jacinto River in July of 2011.

Harris County and the State of Texas won a ruling from Federal District Judge Lee Rosenthal last week that helps clear the way for a trial of the County’s billion dollar environmental penalty case against Waste Management, International Paper and McGinnis Industrial Services.

Judge Rosenthal sent the case back to the state court for a trial before a jury made up of Harris County residents.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed the lawsuit in 2010 in state district court seeking civil penalties for the dioxin contamination caused by paper manufacturing and paper mill waste disposal practices dating back to the 1960s. The lawsuit claims that Champion Paper disposed of hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated waste in unlined pits just north of the IH-10 East bridge and along the west bank of the San Jacinto River in east Harris County The site is currently the focus of an EPA Superfund clean-up. International Paper and Waste Management sought to transfer the case to federal court in August of this year.

The opinion states: “This case arises out of the effects on the San Jacinto River of a former hazardous dump site located in Harris County, Texas. In December 2011, Harris County sued the former site owners, operators, and users, as well as their successors: McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Coroporation; Waste Management, Inc.; Waste Management of Texas; International Paper Company; and Champion International Corporation. Harris County alleged multiple violations of Texas state law from the discharge of dioxin and other hazardous wastes into the San Jacinto River from 1967 through 2008.”

Harris County is represented by Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney; Terry O’Rourke, and Rock Owens of the Office of the Harris County Attorney; and the Houston law firm of Connelly · Baker · Wotring LLP.