Fifth Ward neighbors angry after tests confirm cancer-causing chemicals in soil

Charly Edsitty Image
Friday, September 30, 2022
Fifth Ward neighbors angry after cancer-causing chemicals confirmed
Every Fifth Ward resident who spoke at the press conference said they had some kind of connection to cancer or a diagnosis.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Days after tests confirmed cancer-causing chemicals are present in soil around the Union Pacific Rail Yard, neighbors in Houston's Fifth Ward are speaking out.

Those neighbors were angry as they sounded off during a news conference on Thursday morning.

Fifth Ward residents are demanding more comprehensive health studies be done in their neighborhood to get a clearer picture of how the cancer-causing chemicals have impacted people's health.

Several Fifth Ward residents were joined by the founder of the nonprofit Texas Health and Environment Alliance.

They spoke out almost a week after the Houston Health Department confirmed that 42 soil samples collected from the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens area tested positive for cancer-causing chemicals.

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

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

The neighborhoods are located right next to the Union Pacific Rail Yard.

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

State health officials believe it seeped into the nearby soil and groundwater, creating a cancer-causing plume for more than 100 homes. According to the report, it's not just an underground plume. It is also on the surface of the soil.

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.

RELATED: Report shows contamination in Fifth Ward cancer cluster worse than anyone 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.

In response to the press conference, the Union Pacific Rail Road sent out this statement:

"Union Pacific remains focused on protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of those who live and work near our facilities. We will be conducting our own soil sampling around the former Southern Pacific Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site and will make those results public when available.
Over the last 140 years, there have been over 100 businesses - various manufacturers, metal foundries, auto shops, electrical contractors, printing plants and laundromats - that have operated in this area. It should be noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have established different thresholds for dioxin. The samples taken by the city of Houston in and around the HWPW site that stopped operating in 1971, fall well below the levels TCEQ identifies as needing remediation."

Twenty-seven percent of the samples exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's levels of dioxin in soil for children.

The demand on Thursday is for the state's health department to conduct more health studies to determine exactly what cancers and birth defects are happening the community as a result of the chemicals.

Every person who spoke at the press conference said they had some kind of connection to cancer or a diagnosis.

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SEE ALSO: City of Houston and Harris Co. file notice of intent to sue over Fifth Ward contamination

A significant step has been taken in the multi-year drama involving Union Pacific and a Fifth Ward neighborhood that has been battling multiple environmental and health issues with a nearby rail yard.