Vote for $5M to move Fifth Ward neighbors away from 'cancer cluster' delayed by at least 1 week

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Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Vote to spend $5M to move 'cancer cluster' neighbors blocked, for now
A $5 million relocation funding vote for Kashmere Gardens residents living near a "cancer cluster" was blocked in Houston City Council.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A plan to allocate millions to help Fifth Ward neighbors move from a cancer cluster is on hold for at least another week.

For neighbors in the Kashmere Gardens community, years of waiting may be finally coming to an end.

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

"I'm actually elated that the mayor took it upon himself to find some monies to start this funding because it is well-needed," Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who grew up in the Fifth Ward neighborhood near Union Pacific's rail yard, said.

Her neighborhood has brought her joy but also a lot of grief.

"I had thyroid cancer," Blueford-Daniels explained. "Cancer does not run in my family."

She's not alone. The city deemed the area near the rail yard a cancer cluster, which is a place that Blueford-Daniels says many would like to leave but can't afford to do so.

"If you had asked me last year before we found out my husband has cancer, I'd say, 'No, we'd probably stay.' Now that my husband has cancer, that is something we may talk about and may consider," Blueford-Daniels said.

That option almost became a reality Wednesday. The Houston City Council considered an item to allocate $5 million to help people move. It didn't pass.

"I cannot tell you how disappointed I am," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "I cannot tell you how disappointed I am."

The frustration wasn't just for the vote, but because Councilmember Letitia Plummer blocked one.

"I want to make sure the community understands what they are dealing with," Plummer explained. "They need to understand that the $5 million is seed money."

None of the money is coming from Union Pacific. Instead, it's coming out of the city's general fund.

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

The money is something Turner says is needed, because last year, the health department sampled soil and found a toxin in each one that causes liver cancer and other illnesses.

"While they're continuing to do more testing, people are being diagnosed, and they are dying from cancer, and they have been screaming for help," Turner explained.

As neighbors wait for money, they know more testing is on the way. Union Pacific wants to test 300 properties.

Blueford-Daniels signed UP's form to let officials take a soil sample. She hopes the results will show why so many near her have gotten sick.

"We want to get to the end result and find some median to try and make people whole for the suffering that they're having," Blueford-Daniels said.

City council could take up the relocation item as early as next week. ABC13 reached out to Union Pacific about the testing. A spokesperson sent this statement:

Our goal is to listen, maintain transparency and work collaboratively with the community, while keeping its best interests at the forefront of our actions. Union Pacific is fully committed to following through with the additional testing that all parties, including the city of Houston, agreed is necessary. We are currently in the neighborhood seeking formal permission from residents to conduct these critical soil samples once the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves the testing plan. This additional testing will provide the essential data needed to make informed decisions regarding any required additional remediation.

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

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