THEA calls on state to conduct in-depth studies on the health of residents living in Kashmere Gardens and the Fifth Ward

The Texas Health and Environmental Alliance (THEA) held a press conference Thursday to call on the state to conduct in-depth studies on the health of residents living in Kashmere Gardens and the Fifth Ward.

Ronald Harden, 59, grew up in the Fifth Ward, not far from the Union Pacific railyard. Earlier this month, Harden, like so many of his family members, was diagnosed with cancer.

“My mother died out here from cancer,” Harden said. “She left here with one kidney. She died from leukemia. My brother’s lost both his kidneys. I’m on my way on October the third to have one of my kidneys removed from this cancer.”

Harden has renal cancer. He said he believes living near the railyard contributed to the disease.

“We played in that water when it flooded. You could see the rainbow floating in the water. It’s the chemicals coming off them tracks,” he said.

On Friday, Harden and several community members stood with THEA as they called on the Texas Department of State Health Services to do more studies on the community’s health.

“On Sept. 21, the Houston Health Department released information that confirms dioxin was found in every one of the 47 soil samples that they collected around the Union Pacific Railroad, and more than a quarter of the samples the dioxin levels exceeded the EPA’s non-carcinogenic risk-based treatment levels for children,” said Founder and Executive Director of THEA Jackie Medcalf.

Medcalf said the type of dioxins found in the yards of homes closest to the railyard are known to be the types of dioxin derived from the wood treatment process.

Dioxin is a toxic carcinogen that’s been linked to cancer. Earlier this year test samples found traces of creosote near the railyard, which used to be a creosote treatment facility.

Union Pacific has said it is working to clean up the site, but residents like LaTonya Payne said progress isn’t happening swiftly enough. Payne believes the chemicals gave her son, Corinthian, leukemia— which took his life last year.

“I just believe that the negligence that has been going on for years from the railroad caused, was a contributing factor to his passing away,” she said.

THEA said they plan to send a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services to request additional community testing.

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