All 42 soil samples test positive for cancer-causing chemicals in Fifth Ward, officials say

Friday, September 23, 2022
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All 42 soil samples collected around the Union Pacific Rail Yard in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens tested positive for cancer-causing chemicals.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- ABC13 has been following for a while the reports of cancer-causing chemicals and its effects on the residents of Fifth Ward for decades.

On Friday, the Houston Health Department announced it has already started informing families that all 42 soil samples collected in July around the contaminated Union Pacific Rail Yard in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens tested positive for cancer-causing chemicals.

Creosote is a chemical once used to make rail ties at the railyard.

State health officials believe it seeped into the nearby soil and groundwater, creating a cancer-causing plume for more than a hundred homes. According to this new report, it's not just an underground plume. It is also on the surface of the soil.

"That the contamination was all underground and that the contamination was in the ground water underneath the houses, and the surface soil was OK. It turns out that's not the case," Loren Hopkins, Houston Health's chief environmental science officer, said.

SEE RELATED STORY: Report shows contamination in Fifth Ward cancer cluster worse than anyone thought

All the samples contained dioxin, a highly toxic chemical compound associated with cancer and other severe health risks, like reproductive and developmental problems. The chemical compound can also reportedly interfere with hormones.

Twenty-seven percent of the samples exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's levels of dioxin in soil for children. Following this discovery, Houston health leaders want state and federal agencies to do more.

"If a full investigation is done, they will be looking at every depth at every sample, and they'll do a lot more of extensive sampling," Hopkins said. "There'll be a lot more confidence in it."

In 2021, researchers found leukemia rates in children in the area were nearly five times the normal rate.

The discovery wasn't a surprise to neighbors who had samples taken from their property.

"We're able to validate what we knew all along, which was even though they were saying it was in the soil, and over a period of time it becomes less toxic, we know it was an issue," neighbor Kathy Blueford-Daniels said.

On Friday, the department published the full report of the results and a map with all of the soil sampling locations on its website.

SEE RELATED STORY: 'This is our shot:' Texans ask for protection against Union Pacific's cancer-causing chemicals