Harris County, Houston to pursue federal lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad over cancer cluster found in Kashmere Gardens, Fifth Ward

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Houston and Harris County authorities and environmental experts discussed the “next step in seeking justice for families living in the cancer cluster” in Kashmere Gardens and Fifth Ward.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed his expectations, including the need for the Union Pacific Railroad to remove contaminants from what Harris County and its neighbors have long said is a cancer cluster that has killed many.

“For far too long and at too high a cost, these communities have been ignored and disrespected by UP. The cost is simply too high,” Turner said during Wednesday’s news conference.

For decades, those who live near the old rail yard at Liberty Road and Lockwood Drive have seen their loved ones die from cancer diagnosis, and creosote, the carcinogen which is to blame.

The railroad used the chemical to clean rail ties, which seeped into the ground over time, and city leaders, officials and neighbors believe it has created a contaminant plume that’s growing.

“To be clear, the city, my office, we have tried to have discussions with Union Pacific to reach a resolution. We have tried time and time again, and despite all these things, we are absolutely nowhere,” said Harris County attorney, Christian Menefee.

Absent from Wednesday’s announcement were representatives from the TCEQ, which is in the process of reviewing Union Pacific’s cleanup proposal and at some point will issue a permit.

But, Houston area leaders have said the TCEQ’s approach hasn’t been strong enough and data used to calculate how big of a concern is nowhere near close to the problem.

“We’re still at baby steps, but this is a big change. This was a giant step,” said Fifth Ward resident, Sandra Edwards.

But more steps continue, including a look at the effects the cluster has had on child development, according to Kathy Blueford Daniels who represents the area as an HISD trustee.

“We have the lowest achievement scores in the entire district, in my district. Has this had any impact on their learning ability? That’s something that hasn’t been addressed and should be addressed,” Daniels said.

Union Pacific released the following statement in regards to Wednesday’s news conference:

“We are eager to implement our aggressive remedy at the Houston Wood Preserving Works site once the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issues our RCRA permit. US EPA guidance states that the underground slurry wall we are proposing will prevent further migration of contaminants off-site. Additionally, we are proposing to increase underground creosote extraction and additional monitoring at and around the site.

We are currently reviewing the RCRA Notices that the City and County issued and look forward to continuing our commitment to transparency in our efforts to clean-up the site in future meetings with them.”


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About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.