Local Group Warns Swimmers To Stay Out Of San Jacinto River

Local grassroots organizations are once again urging the public not to swim or fish this summer in a part of the San Jacinto River that used to be paper mill waste pits They say efforts to clean up that part of the river have failed and the area should be off limits to the public.

More than forty years ago, Champion Paper Mill of Pasadena, which was later bought by International Paper, operated a mill near the San Jacinto River. The company dumped its chemical waste in huge pits and eventually covered them up with dirt.

But at some point those pits became part of the river and all those underground chemicals began to seep into the water. There have been efforts to clean it up, but a local toxicologist says the area is still dangerous.

“He is recommending that people not swim, fish, or be in the waters near the waste pits and that people not consume fish near the waste pits because they  have dangerous chemicals, dioxins and furans.”

Fred Lewis is with the Texans Together Education Fund, the group that commissioned the toxicology study.

Lewis says many people are unaware of the dioxins found in the water and how swimming or eating fish from the area could put them at risk for cancer.

“People catch fish there. It’s a very good place to catch fish; it’s just the fish are contaminated.”   

Harris County filed a lawsuit against the International Paper and Waste Management, which also owned the property at one time.

Assistant County Attorney Terence O’rourke is handling the case.

“These are big defendants and the issue, this is a hundreds of millions of dollars case in terms of law enforcement. We’re enforcing the Texas Water Code law that says that you can’t pollute the water.”

The state has warned people since 1990, about the hazards of eating fish and crab caught in the area.  Last year, the paper company poured tons of boulders where the pits used to be, but tests shows the pollutants are still finding their way into the water.

The county and local organizations would like to see a more permanent solution, but in the meantime, they’re asking the public to stay away.