Texas Health Department finds no relation of Fifth Ward cancer cluster and chemicals used by railway

Lileana Pearson Image
Saturday, September 2, 2023
Study finds no link of chemicals causing cancer in Fifth Ward area
The Texas Health Department concludes there's no connection between cancer diagnoses of Fifth Ward residents and chemicals used by Union Pacific.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Union Pacific said the Texas Health Department found no cancer concerns after evaluating a 2022 City of Houston report that said chemicals used by the rail company decades ago are causing a cancer cluster. It's the latest update in a story ABC13 has covered and investigated for years.

Residents who live in northeast Houston's Kashmere Gardens area think otherwise. When Gerald Wilder started feeling ill, he knew something was wrong.

"I had a hard time breathing," Wilder said. He also had a feeling he knew what doctors would tell him.

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

" I have lung cancer in both lungs and my esophagus," Wilder said.

His diagnosis isn't isolated. Sandra Edwards lost her dad.

"My dad got sick, and it's been a journey ever sense," Edwards said.

Latonya Payne lost her son and has cancer herself.

"13 years old and didn't get the opportunity to live his life fully. When my son was diagnosed with cancer, his doctors told me it was environmental," Payne said.

Dianne Osborne told ABC13 that generations of her family had lost their battles with cancer.

"My older sister (had) lung cancer. She died. My little sister, she had COPD. My brother had cancer and COPD. And I had another brother with cancer and COPD. My mother, my dad died from it," Osborne said.

Osborne, who has a mass on her kidney, said she is fed up.

"I'm still crying. I'm still grieving for my people who are gone," Osborne said.

A 2022 City of Houston study says chemicals used decades ago by Union Pacific to treat railway ties washed into the ground and water.

The city said those chemicals are to blame for the extraordinary number of cancer diagnoses and deaths in the area.

"And we have struggled and paid for funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral," Osborne said.

SEE ALSO: 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.

But now, Union Pacific said a study by the Texas Health Department used the same soil samples as the city and found no link.

The study concluded: "Based on the data provided in the report, DSHS concludes that incidental swallowing or coming into contact with soil contaminants in the area sampled is not expected to harm people's health."

However, the document also lists the study's limitations, such as limited soil samples taken at just one point in time, and it may need to account for each person's exposure to the chemicals properly.

"They are very wrong," Osborne reacted.

The Houston mayor's office doesn't agree with the finding, saying, "It is undeniable by the state and city that there is a greater percentage of adults and children diagnosed and dying from cancer in Kashmere Gardens than any other area in Houston."

On Friday, Union Pacific sent another release saying they will be seeking permission from property owners to take soil samples from yards to continue contamination cleanup efforts.

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

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