Attorney discusses toxicity in San Jacinto River


NORTH SHORE – As the debate continues on what should be done with the toxic waste pits in the San Jacinto River, residents on both shores of the river are looking for more information, and some relief to perceived health problems.

Attorney Fletcher Cockrell, of the firm Smith & Hassler, has been attending community meetings, and discussing the situation with residents who have these concerns. He has also been advertising in the local newspaper asking those with health concerns or questions about their property values to get in touch with him. At a recent meeting on October 1st held at the Highlands Community Center, with Jackie Young as speaker, Cockrell and two other attorneys were available to discuss these issues with the public who attended. About one hundred were present, indicating a strong concern about the environmental and legal issues involved.

Last week he talked at the Highlands Rotary Club luncheon, about the lawsuit that Harris County is now pursuing against the three companies that are responsible for dumping the waste materials from their paper-making operations. He also reviewed the history of the sites and the solutions that are being considered for remediation.

He said that Harris County is spending several million dollars in legal fees to sue the companies that are the successors to the parties that generated the waste and stored it at the river sites, north and south of the I-10 bridge. County attorney Vince Ryan has been preparing this lawsuit for almost 4 years, with the goal of having the courts assess damages of up to 2 billion dollars.

Ryan has two attorneys working on the case, while the defendent companies have assembled a team with as many as 26 defense attorneys, Cockrell noted. They claim their disposal was legal at the time.

Ryan has said that the money would be returned to the state of Texas and to the residents of the area that can show damages to their health or property values.

Cockrell is not a party to this county suit, but is willing to represent private citizens that might have reason to recover damages.

For instance, the incidence of one type of cancer, multiple myeloma, is higher in areas along the river than in the state in general. The occurence is 15 in 10,000 Highlands population, compared to an average of 1 in 100,000 in general, he said.

Another key to whether the waste pits might be effecting the environment and people’s health is what he terms “clusters” where the same disease is occuring in a small area within a three block area of the community.

He said that a “Human Risk Assessment” should be conducted, after the containment cap had been placed in 2011, to determine how much risk the toxins currently pose.

Cockrell has asked in his advertising to contact him if a person or their family member is suffering from various diseases such as Leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, autoimmune disease, nervous system issues, birth defects, skin disorders, or a premature death. His office telephone is 832-457-2332 for those who wish to discuss this or have a question, he said.

Cockrell emphasized that liability is not assumed, and would have to be determined at a trial.