Program would relocate 5th Ward and Kashmere Gardens residents from cancer cluster

Pooja Lodhia Image
Friday, July 14, 2023
City hopes to move families out of cancer cluster in Fifth Ward
Dozens of families in Houston's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens area could be moved into new homes in a first-of-its-kind program.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Dozens of families in Houston's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens area could be moved into new homes.

It's a first-of-its-kind program to give relief to those who live near a former railyard that studies show has been contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals.

"We have the right to live in a safe environment, just like people over in River Oaks have a right to live in a safe environment," Fifth Ward resident Pamela Matthews said. "Had it been over there, they would have moved hell and high water to fix it."

Matthews' mother died from cancer exactly one year ago on Thursday. She said she has had it, too, and she and her grandchildren still live just two blocks from a former railyard that city officials say is responsible for causing at least four types of cancer.

"There were 79 more cases of cancer in this small area than expected," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "In the case of childhood leukemia alone, the number of cancer cases was 350% higher than expected."

SEE ALSO: 'A lost city': Fifth Ward residents running out of patience as EPA announces additional testing

In an emotional news conference Thursday, Turner officially announced a voluntary buyout/buy-in program that could impact 110 lots and cost the city close to $30 million.

Union Pacific, which has owned the property since 1997, has not agreed to pay up until more testing is completed. But city officials say they're moving forward alone, creating a team to look into local and federal funding.

Nothing is guaranteed, and the program could take years to enact, but the mayor says this is the first step toward action.

"Union Pacific will pay for what it's responsible for," Toni Harrison, a spokesperson for Union Pacific, said. "Until we have comprehensive sampling and testing with the correct data sizes to make those decisions, we don't know the extent or source of contamination."

"The city can no longer just wait," Turner said. "We can't do that while we watch tests and litigate. People and families are suffering and dying."

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

"They count on our uneducated ignorance," Fifth Ward resident Joetta Stevenson said. "They count on it because that's how they're able to move at snail's pace or keep your focus on something that's not going to keep you alive."

"I'm going to fight until I take my last breath because I refuse to allow this to happen to any more members of my family," Matthews added. "My brother, he's still living there, too. He has cancer, and his is terminal as well."

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