EPA testing groundwater for possible link between contamination and cancer clusters

Shannon Ryan Image
Thursday, November 9, 2023
Groundwater being tested after Fifth Ward neighborhood cancer deaths
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the Union Pacific Railroad to investigate any links between contamination and Fifth Ward's cancer clusters.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- People living in Fifth Ward's Kashmere Gardens have been dying of cancer at disproportionate rates, according to a 2019 Texas Department of Health and Human Services study.

The cancer clusters are located near a contaminated old rail facility. On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating whether the two are connected.

"We will not shut up. We will not be silenced," Joetta Stevenson, president of the Greater Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood, said. "I want people to know that this community is no longer the path of least resistance."

Stevenson said breast cancer does not run in her family, yet she has had it twice.

"It changed my entire life, my whole existence. It was so devastating to me as a person, physically, and emotionally, and financially," she said.

Casey Luckett of the EPA anticipates the investigation will last six to eight months.

This winter, the agency entered into a legally binding agreement with Union Pacific Railroad, requiring the railroad to investigate contamination at and around the site and assess its public health impacts, all under the EPA's supervision.

The shuttered facility was once used by Southern, now Union Pacific Railroad, to treat wood with creosote, a cancer-causing chemical.

At the end of the investigation, the EPA will make a determination on a potential clean-up. In the interim, the City of Houston has set aside $5 million in taxpayer dollars to relocate residents.

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