Report shows contamination in Fifth Ward cancer cluster worse than anyone thought

Erica Simon Image
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Report reveals railyard contamination was a lot worse than first thought
The Houston Chronicle, ABC13's media partner, uncovered that the railyard near the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood had more than just the cancer-causing creosote seeping into the groundwater.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- There's a shocking new bombshell about the cancer cluster in Houston's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. Our partners at The Houston Chronicle were given a report that showed contamination from a nearby railyard was worse than anyone thought.

The report was done in 2002 as part of a lawsuit from Union Pacific workers who kept getting sick. For years, we thought creosote was the main offender that seeped into the soil and nearby groundwater. The report turned up not only creosote, but several other cancer-causing agents and, even worse - revealed the railyard off Liberty Road used a concoction of deadly pollutants. The chemical engineer referred to it as a "creosote extender." Emily Foxhall, an environmental reporter for the Chronicle, broke down the discovery in her exclusive article.

"It showed that there was toxic waste brought in from several different sites in the Houston region and these sites are what are now known as Superfund sites. So that means the federal government considers them some of the most concerning or dangerous or contaminated sites in the country. So the toxic waste was brought in and mixed with the creosote as part of the wood treatment process," she explained.

Foxhall called this a "clear case of environmental injustice."

"I've been covering this story since 2019," Foxhall said. "When the Texas Department of State Health Services first deemed the historic Black community a cancer cluster."

Union Pacific admitted to the Chronicle that it is aware the toxic waste was used at a certain point but claims any contaminated extender was discontinued. The rail giant went on to say it's interested and open to any new information.

The City of Houston and Harris County have issued an intent to sue Union Pacific for all the damage caused. The U.S. EPA has also gotten involved.

Fifth Ward resident Sandra Edwards said this validates their point even further: things were worse than people would admit. They didn't have the scientific proof or verbiage to connect the dots and show that they were being poisoned. Now they do.

For more on this story, follow Erica Simon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.