Page 17


Pho to by Lou is Du bose immune system that has bewildered doctors. Proof of what actually is buried in the landfill might be impossible to fully determine. Core samples, taken from several locations on top of the landfill would provide hard scientific information and some Highlands residents have requested that the TWC go ahead with core sampling. But Colbert, speaking for the agency, said that such sampling is unlikely because of fear that perforation of the clay containment liner will cause contamination of local water wells. Some immediate neighbors of the dump depend on private wells for household water. Yet according to the Spectrix Corp. lab report \(which was not available to the state agency at the has already been “a major breach in the clay liners that is allowing a hydrological condition known as piping to occur.” The report also concluded that “an Gloria Chaplin and son. eruption is occurring outside the confines of the storage pit and that the undisturbed soils beyond the clay liners ials migrating out of the pit.” It also confirms fears of TWC officials that chemical reactions within the pit are generating gases. IF THE RESULTS of the recent test ” go unchallenged many allegations that have been dismissed by county state agencies, are proven valid. Richard Abraham, coordinator of Texas Rural Studies Toxic Waste Project, has said that the Water Commission is in a difficult position, investigating its own failures. Gloria Chaplin, who has dealt with the agency since it was the Texas Water Quality Board, insists that the regulatory agency does not want to know what is in the dump. “It will just prove that they have been wrong and that they’re responsible for what’s in there,” Chaplin said. “They tell us that there’s nothing harmful in there and then they tell us that they can’t do a core-sample because they don’t know what will come out there if they break the liner. They know that there’s bad stuff in there, Class I stuff, and they don’t want anyone else to know it.” The TWQB had charged Liberty Waste with numerous violations including “pumping contaminated rainwater from the disposal site into a drainage ditch,” improper disposal of industrial solid wastes, failure to cover waste with the minimum six inches of soil required by their permit, and collection and transport of industrial waste to a site in Brazoria County without permit or registration, according to a TWQB interoffice memorandum. And, according to Colbert, the agency compelled them to close their Class II dump in southeast Liberty County. Despite the company’s history of violations, an amended permit was reissued in 1979. The Highlands site was finally closed because of public pressure. C.P. Joiner, interviewed after the dump closed in 1983, said that he voluntarily suspended operations at Highlands \(TO, lot of static from some women out there, one in particular.” In 1983, Chaplin and Fotenot persuaded a group of citizens to file suit against Liberty Waste, Exxon, and 22 companies that have disposed of industrial waste at Highlands. They are asking for property and personal injury damages and the list of plaintiffs had grown to almost 200. Property damage will be easier to prove. The Chaplins, for example, paid $45,000 for their two bedroom house and six acres in 1976. The property was appraised by Harris County Appraisal District at $74,000 in 1985. It is currently appraised at $24,000. Causes of personal injury, particularly related to hazardous waste, are difficult to establish, particularly in a polluted microenvironment like southeastern Harris County. Attorneys invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in epidemiological studies and investigations, speculating on a successful decision or settlement. Benton Musslewhite and John O’Quin, both well-known plaintiffs’ attorneys, began the Liberty Waste litigation. Both are currently under investigation by the State Bar Association for incidents unrelated to the Highlands lawsuits and though both RECENT CHEMICAL ACCIDENTS IN TEXAS February, 1975 A lethal cloud of hydrogen sulfide envelops a neighborhood in Denver City. Eight residents and an ARCO employee died. May, 1976 A truck carrying toxic ammonia gas plunged off a Houston interchange and exploded on the Southwest Freeway. Seven people were killed and more than 100 injured. May, 1978 A blast at Texas City Refining and the resulting exposure to hydrocarbons and isobutane caused six deaths and serious injuries to ten others. October, 1981 An explosion at the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport caused a fire in the chemical production area, killing six and injuring seven. July, 1983 A fire at the Tide pesticide warehouse in Los Fresnos burned for two days, spreading pesticides such as Temik throughout the Mexican American neighborhood. About 100 residents have filed suit. May, 1985 Approximately 1,000 residents within a onemile radius were evacuated when a truck and train collided near Eastland. Hydrochloric and sulfuric acids and anhydrous hydrogen were released, injuring at least 15. Source: Texas Center for Rural Studies continue to practice law, they are no longer directly involved with the Chaplin and Fontenot lawsuit. Four other firms have been involved in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit only to withdraw from the case after a short time. Prominent Houston personal injury attorneys such as Joe Jamail and Hill Parker have come and gone. Gloria Chaplin continues to knock on doors to solicit powers of attorney and the plaintiffs are now represented by Tom Pearson and Don Maierson, both members of smaller firms than the attorneys who previously handled the case. The new information establishing that there are toxic substances in the surface soil could add some momentum to a case that has languished for almost three years. y ET TIME IS on the side of the defendants. Seated in the living room of her small frame house Gloria Chaplin clutches half-a-dozen death certificates in her hand. “Here are some of our plaintiffs, some of my neighbors,” she says. “With all the changing of lawyers they were never deposed. And now Harry is dead and he was an important witness.” Harry Moreland was the former manager of the site who died of a gunshot wound one month after he had signed on as a plaintiff in March of 1985. His death was ruled a suicide by Dayton police but Chaplin does not believe that he took his own life. Abraham, of the Center for Rural Studies, and Chaplin have criticized the TWC for failure to take sworn depositions from a list of witnesses that they have provided the agency. An agency spokesman said that witnesses have not been interviewed because historically allegations made under oath have not been as incriminat 10 APRIL 17, 1987