Fifth Ward residents living in cancer cluster call out Mayor, state senators over campaign contributions from Union Pacific

Here's what we know

FIFTH WARD – Ever since the first Fifth Ward cancer cluster was confirmed by the state department of health in 2019, numerous city and state elected officials have shown up to meetings declaring support for residents and promising to hold Union Pacific accountable for the decades-long contamination at its nearby rail yard.

But now, some residents in that area say they feel betrayed by some of those officials after learning they accepted campaign donations from Union Pacific.

“They’re saying they’re going to help us. [But] how are you going to help us when we turn our back, you’re taking money,” said resident Leisa Glenn.

Members of the Impact Fifth Ward community group say they recently received documents showing the campaign donations.

“When I got this information, it was like a knife in my back,” said president of Impact Fifth Ward Sandra Edwards.

The residents pointed out Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Senator Borris Miles, and State Senator Carol Alvarado, who all attended a May 3 meeting advocating for residents and calling on TCEQ and Union Pacific, to do more.

Campaign finance records from the Texas Ethics Commission show from May 2020 to Feb. 2021, Alvarado received a total of $9,500 from the Union Pacific Fund For Effective Government.

Senator Miles received a total of $7,500 from Oct. 2019 to Sept. 2021.

And Mayor Turner received $6,500 from Aug. 2019 to Dec. 2019.

Union Pacific has also donated to Republicans in Texas government over the years.

“I’m looking at the amounts of money that they went out to get, and it’s basically chicken change,” said Joetta Stevenson, president of the Greater Fifth Ward super neighborhood.

KPRC 2 News received the following statements:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“Mayor Turner has [been] steadfast and proactive in his fight on behalf of Fifth Ward residents. Promising residents he will fight the company to ensure appropriate cleanup is one thing, actually doing it is another. Mayor Turner is doing it. To insinuate the Mayor of the City of Houston would do anything less than stand side by side with residents and fight for Fifth Ward goes against the facts, the history of his public service, and frankly where he chooses to live today.

Companies are free to donate to whoever they choose, but it is crystal clear from the record that Mayor Turner has been aggressively advocating for the residents of the Fifth Ward in Kashmere Gardens and will continue to do so.

  • Last week, it was the Mayor offering comment against the UP sought permit with TCEQ.
  • In 2021, the Mayor personally led EPA Administrator Regan on a tour of Fifth Ward putting it front & center on the national environmental justice scene. The Administrator reiterated the importance of that visit just last month in addressing the AAMA in Washington DC.
  • The mayor wrote a letter on June 25, 2021, encouraging the EPA to take action on behalf of the residents.
  • It was Dr. Laura Hopkins & the Houston Health Department that helped do the hard work with residents to prove the cancer cluster numbers within 5th Ward, both working for the Mayor.”

State Senator Carol Alvarado

“I have been an elected official for over 19 years. I have conducted political campaigns for my current position as state senator, for state representative, and for city council. Over a period of 20 years, I have raised money for my various political campaigns and have not let any contributions get in the way of serving my district.

Throughout my service as an elected official, the interests of my constituents are always my focus. My office and staff have an excellent working relationship with the community, business, education and religious leaders, and neighborhood civic groups. I am proud of our community presence throughout Senate District 6.

In matters related to Union Pacific, my office has called them out on the issue related to blocking railroad crossings by summoning their executives into my office for lengthy discussions to express our concerns. We have also fostered meetings between concerned community leaders and groups with the railroad company leadership.

On the Fifth Ward creosote yard facility contamination problem, I have been in contact with state and federal regulators, specifically the TCEQ and EPA, to get them to hold Union Pacific accountable and responsible for this toxic mess. I have attended community meetings and have met with fellow elected officials and activists to share information.

A safer and healthy community and the community’s residents is what guides me in this endeavor. Attached I have included various documents and social media posts that highlight my office’s position with regards to Union Pacific in the district.”

State Senator Borris Miles

“I have been 100% committed to my constituents and fighting to clean up the creosote in Northeast Houston. I have championed legislation fighting for environmental justice and against environmental racism since I’ve been elected. My record speaks for itself, especially when fighting against industries that continually pollute minority communities. I have received campaign contributions from Union Pacific, and those funds will be used to bus constituents to the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting this summer in Austin. I have been outspoken in this fight and will continue to be, and we must ensure that TCEQ holds companies like Union Pacific accountable and make sure they clean up the sites they pollute. My number one focus will always be my constituents and their needs.”

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Emmy-winning journalist, native Houstonian, reader, dancer, yogi.