Fifth Ward residents still pleading for action on cancer cluster found in neighborhood

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Fifth Ward residents are pleading for action on a “cancer cluster” identified in their area.

The residents want Union Pacific to take responsibility for the health problems they say have plagued their community for years.

“Union Pacific has taken no responsibility for the health costs,” one resident said during the meeting.

Residents say their concerns stretch decades and want Union Pacific Railroad to do more to contain and remove creosote contamination at and surrounding the old rail yard at Liberty and Lockwood.

For years, rail crews cleaned rail ties at the site with creosote, which is a known cancer-causing chemical.

The issue now is whether the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should approve Union Pacific’s permit proposal to clean up, which is a process representatives from Union Pacific say already has been effective.

“The data shows that the community is not exposed to the contamination,” Kevin Pterburs with Union Pacific Railroad said.

Union Pacific’s proposal includes building a 3400-foot-long underground barrier, which they say will stop the spread of contaminated water. They plan to also install more collection wells and continue to monitor and inspect contamination caps.

But residents say that’s not enough. Several residents said their relatives have died from cancer, which is proof, they say, the contaminant plume has spread.

Mayor Sylvester Turner agrees.

“There is a very high rate of cancer among adults and children, and when you look at all the environmental indexes from the EPA, this area falls under that 80 percent index. Very, very high,” Turner said.

Turner says the city is exploring legal options and keeps up with EPA Administrator Michael Reagan, who visited the site last year and spoke exclusively to KPRC2 about the state and Union Pacific not providing enough data on the extent of the damage.

“Every single door that I knocked on, someone was suffering from cancer or they had generations of family members that died of cancer,” said congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.


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Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.