Fifth Ward residents upset over Union Pacific campaign donations: 'We're fighting for our lives'

Erica Simon Image
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Fifth Ward residents upset over Union Pacific campaign donations
Residents in Houston's Fifth Ward feel they've been betrayed after learning politicians have received donations from Union Pacific.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For years, we've been reporting on creosote contamination in Houston's Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. The wood-treating chemical was used at a nearby Union Pacific railyard for decades. As a result, it left the soil and groundwater of nearby homes full of cancer-causing agents, according to state reports.

The people have been fighting for their voices to be heard, but feel like they've been betrayed. Our partners at The Houston Chronicle found several local and state politicians have received campaign contributions from UP, the same corporation they're working to hold accountable for contamination.

SEE ALSO: Fifth Ward residents record complaints against Union Pacific in fight for environmental justice

"We're fighting for our lives," neighbor Barbara Beal explained.

Since this area was deemed as Houston's first cancer cluster in 2019, leaders at every level have been getting involved and vowed to right the wrongs of the contaminated area, including the head of the U.S. EPA, Michael Regan, who wanted to see the affected neighborhoods for himself this past fall. The federal government has made a lot of progress since then, but neighbors said their issue is now at the local and state level.

Our partners at The Houston Chronicle found that Mayor Sylvester Turner, Sen. Borris Miles, Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Carol Alvarado, Rep. Ana Hernandez, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson ... all received contributions from Union Pacific in the past few years.

UP has also given money to committees that fund Republican campaigns.

SEE ALSO: Lawsuit takes aim against Union Pacific after cancer-causing chemicals found in Fifth Ward

"You got representatives that have been taking money from the very entity that's been doing it. And you come and meet with us time after time. 'Oh, we emphasize. We're with you. We're right there with you,'" Joetta Stevenson, president of Greater Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood Council, said.

The politicians ABC13 spoke to, who received money from UP, said these donations don't affect the work they do for these residents to hold UP accountable.

Mayor Turner's office said the contributions were made during the 2019 election cycle and that "Companies are free to donate to whoever they choose, but it is crystal clear from the record that Mayor Turner has been aggressively advocating for the residents of the Fifth Ward in Kashmere Gardens and will continue to do so."

Rep. Alvarado's team said that "Over a period of 20 years, I have raised money for my various political campaigns and have not let any contributions get in the way of serving my district."

Sen. Miles' team also said, "I have received campaign contributions from Union Pacific, and those funds will be used to bus constituents to the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting this summer in Austin. I have been outspoken in this fight and will continue to be, and we must ensure that TCEQ holds companies like Union Pacific accountable."

SEE ALSO: Fifth Ward residents plead for action from EPA on cancer cluster

Sen. Whitmire added that "I do not keep up with who donates to me. I am supportive of 5th Ward residents and oppose Union Pacific's abuse and harm of residents. We must all commit to ending environmental inequality. But my donations do not factor in my work, at all!"

At this point, neighbors are tired and want officials to relocate them away from the contamination.

"What is the point of keep fighting a losing fight? Get away from here. Just get us from over here. Bottom line: You don't want to do it no way. Get us from over here," Stevenson demanded.

In addition to being relocated, neighbors feel officials should pay for medical bills. Make a way for them to get the best care at MD Anderson Cancer Center since none of this was their fault, yet they're forced to live with it.

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