Erin Brockovich, Sheila Jackson Lee join residents in fight to get answers about 5th ward ‘cancer cluster’

HOUSTON – Residents of a state-identified “cancer cluster” in northeast Houston continued their call for action Tuesday as a well-known activist joined their cause.

Consumer and environmental advocate Erin Brockovich was part of a town hall meeting this evening that was organized by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

“We need to speed this up, get this game on and start giving you affirmative answers as to the extent of this contamination, who’s sitting on it and who’s being impacted by what chemical,” Brockovich said.

Neighbors in Kashmere Gardens and 5th Ward believe creosote, which is used to treat rail ties at a nearby rail yard now owned by Union Pacific, is to blame for the higher than normal incidents of cancer in the area. Creosote is known to cause cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“My mother, she died from cancer and now I have to go to the doctor for a mass they found under my breast they say that’s cancer and I never even thought that would happen to me,” said lifelong 5th Ward resident, Cynthia Stokley.

Union Pacific rejects claims its Liberty Road site is to blame. Noting it is just one of 200 other sites supervised by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that are also within the 8,000 acres where the cancer cluster study was researched.

“We’ve removed dirt, we’ve capped soils, we’ve monitored groundwater, we’ve dug hundreds of wells and done all sorts of testing. There’s no pathway for impacted materials to have contact with the residents,” said Brenda Mainwaring, an associate vice president public affairs for Union Pacific.

But legal advocates for the residents said the company’s clean up efforts aren’t going far enough.

“What they have not done is account for one of the exposure pathways which is possible vapor intrusion. We know contamination plume that we’ve been talking about is not stable,” said Rodrigo Cantu, an environmental justice lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said she would seek an assessment to establish the area as a Superfund priority.

Establishing the area as a Superfund would then allow the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the contaminated site. It also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA led cleanup work.

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