28 Chemical Companies poison small town of Mission Texas

SAN ANTONIO - About 2,500 residents of Mission dispute state findings that chemical levels remaining near former pesticide businesses in Mission were insufficient to pose a danger to residents.

The group is involved in a mass tort action against 28 chemical companies and pharmaceuticals, pretty much any producer of ingredients used by the Hayes-Sammons pesticide plant before it closed in 1972.

Pesticides began pouring into town by rail in the mid 1940s. Not long after, the town's south side found itself soaked in sickness, misery and death.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission last week released results of testing it did on 48 properties in Mission near former pesticide businesses. Seventeen sites indicated various levels of chemicals such as toxaphene, dieldrin, beta-BCH, heptachlor epoxide, chlordane, 4,4-DDT and 4,4-DDE.

But the TNRCC says none are at levels high enough to pose a danger to residents. All of these chemicals could cause liver, kidney or nervous system damage in higher concentrations.

The TNRCC vowed to fund and perform the estimated $500,000 cleanup of 17 of the 48 sites tested in April and asked residents who refused state testing on their properties to reconsider.

Ramiro Barrera, 52, counts the names of the dead from the old neighborhood on his fingers. He lists the cause of death for each as liver cancer or lymphoma.

Three years ago, the plaintiffs banded together and sued. The most recent version of their petition accuses 35 large companies of having polluted or inadequately cleaned three sites laden with pesticides in this town of about 50,000, known for its citrus industry.

The dispute is not a new one. In the mid-1940s, the Hayes-Sammons chemical company moved into Mission and set up a warehouse on the tracks to receive and store pesticides.

Ramon Garcia, a lawyer known for winning large jury verdicts, is representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Barrera and others who lived in south Mission say they remember growing up only blocks from the warehouse. He and his friends would climb on barrels containing pesticides, and when it rained they would splash about in the "rainbow water." "You could smell it all the time," Barrera said. "It was kind of sweet."

The stories of the sick and dying go on, but so far only anecdotal evidence is available to support Mission residents' contention that business activities here harmed their health.

Attorneys for the defendants said the plaintiffs' case is severely lacking.

"They have yet to produce any evidence that anything my clients produced or sold has caused them any injury," said Robert Newman, a Houston lawyer defending Allied Chemical Corp., Aventis Pharmaceutical, FMC Corp. and Maxus Energy Corp. All are alleged to be product suppliers of Hayes-Sammons.


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