Residents in 5th Ward, Kashmere Gardens to discuss contamination concerns in water, soil and air

Families are concerned about a 'cancer cluster' in groundwater

HOUSTON – A town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening to discuss questions and lawsuits related to contamination concerns in Houston’s 5th Ward and Kashmere Gardens.

Dozens of people have filed lawsuits against Union Pacific Railroad, accusing the company of contaminating air, soil and water with toxic chemicals including creosote, a wood preservative that was used for railroad ties.

“We want to clean it up and get our clients compensated,” said Jason Gibson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

A 2019 report from the state found higher rates of certain cancers in the area but did not name a cause.

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“My daddy died when he was just 42-years-old of cancer of the kidneys,” said 5th Ward resident Delores McGruder.

McGruder is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“We have a lot of clients that want an update, and so we like to be there in person,” Gibson said about the town hall meeting. “We haven’t done that in a long time because of COVID.”

Gibson shared a letter addressed to a resident last month noting concentrations of arsenic in the groundwater, though the letter stated residents get their drinking water from the city.

“Union Pacific is lulling people into a false sense of security and safety by sending residents a notice that says, ‘Hey, you’ve got arsenic levels in your groundwater, but you’re safe because you’re drinking the city of Houston water and you’re not drinking the groundwater,’” Gibson said. “That’s just completely misleading because the mechanism of exposure for this chemical is through the ground, up to the surface where the heat turns it into a gas.”

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Gibson said the lawsuits are currently pending in court.

In McGruder’s case, Union Pacific denied all of the allegations in court records.

“Union Pacific sympathizes with residents who are dealing with medical issues and those with health concerns. However, decades of testing under the supervision of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality have found no exposure pathway to residents and recent health studies state that they were not intended to determine the cause of any medical issue,” a statement from Union Pacific read.

The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Norton Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ.