City of Houston; Harris County intend to sue Union Pacific over creosote contamination

Erica Simon Image
Thursday, July 7, 2022
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The yearslong fight to get justice for neighbors in Houston's cancer cluster is taking a big step.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's possibly the most significant step forward yet, for a community, in a fight for their lives. The city of Houston and Harris County are planning legal action against Union Pacific over creosote contamination in Kashmere Gardens and Fifth Ward.

Creosote is an oily liquid made up of hundreds of chemicals that can cause lung and skin problems, or even cancer.

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

"You're not going to keep coming in here and disrupting us. You're not going to come in here and keep killing us. You're not going to come in here and keep poisoning us," resident Sandra Edwards said.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, creosote, a chemical once used to make rail ties at the railyard, seeped into the nearby soil and groundwater, creating a plume for more than a hundred homes. Creosote is a cancer-causing agent, and according to the state, this area off Liberty Road and Lavender Street has a higher than normal cancer rate.

"If this was River Oaks, West University Place, this wouldn't be happening. These people would have been bought out and settled with, (going) wherever they want to with their families. Living in peace. Enjoying life," resident Barbara Beal said.

The city of Houston and Harris County have teamed up to send notices of intent to sue to UP, the Administrator of the U.S. EPA, the Attorney General of the United States, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. After about 90 days if they have the clearance, the city and county will file a citizen suit in federal court seeking injunctive relief against UP to address its "dangerous storage and disposal of hazardous waste at the UP facility."

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

"We know that they're going to put up a fight. But guess what? So will we. We're not going to stop fighting. We're not going to stop trying to protect the people. We're not going to stop calling you out when people are dying in this community," Joetta Stevenson, President of Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood Council, said.

Union Pacific issued the following statement:

"Union Pacific sympathizes with the residents who are dealing with medical issues and those with health concerns. We have met with the community many times over the years and will continue to engage the federal and state governments, as well as the City of Houston and Harris County as our remediation work at the site continues. Our focus has always been, and continues to be, on protecting the environment and the health and safety of the public. The extensive studies conducted at the site have consistently shown there is no creosote exposure pathway to residents."

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

When ABC13 asked for the studies UP was referring to, they sent us this website: The Former Houston Wood Preserving Works Site - Houston Wood Preserving Works Site. The last assessments were done in 2020, and claim to show chemical levels low enough not to be harmful.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said they're in it for the long haul for UP to right all of their wrongs, whether they admit them or not.

"Here in local government, Harris County, Houston. We're not going to sit by idly while folks are dying and dealing with health issues. We're going to hold these companies accountable and do the very best we can, and even if we can't, we're going to fight. We're not going to go down without a fight," Menefee said.

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