Environmental studies and soil collection for chemical testing underway in Fifth Ward

Daniela Hurtado Image
Thursday, June 6, 2024
Soil collection for chemical testing underway in Kashmere Gardens
Fifth Ward's Kashmere Gardens is undergoing soil testing near the contaminated Union Pacific Rail Yard after residents reported feeling sick for years.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Soil testing is now underway in the Fifth Ward of the former Union Pacific Wood Preserving facility.

Soil testing is now underway in the Fifth Ward of the former Union Pacific Wood Preserving facility, an area where the City of Houston said has cancer-causing chemicals in its soil.

ABC13 has followed this story for a long time. Neighbors in the area have said for years that something in the soil was making them sick.

Union Pacific is leading this soil testing, which is being done with the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the city and county.

It's a group effort to thoroughly examine the soil and what kind of chemicals are in there.

Testing on Wednesday morning started at Boyce-Dorian Park in Houston's Fifth Ward.

Officials are set to collect samples near the former wood treatment facility until September.

Union Pacific representatives say they're conducting several environmental studies to go along with their soil testing.

"We're looking for a variety of different chemicals in the soil. Chemicals you would find at wood treating facilities, such as the site from Union Pacific, in addition to chemicals you'd find in urban areas - a variety of chemicals we're looking ground surface," Kevin Peterburs, Union Pacific environmental remediation senior manager, said.

After collecting their samples, Union Pacific representatives say they will send them to the EPA for review.

How soon a report will be made and released by the EPA is unknown. ABC13 sent their media team an inquiry.

The Union Pacific sent ABC13 the following statement:

"Union Pacific, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the City of Houston, and Harris County, announces the start of soil testing in Houston's Fifth Ward. This comprehensive endeavor, the most extensive testing to date in Fifth Ward, underscores Union Pacific's unwavering commitment to safeguarding the health and well-being of residents through proactive environmental assessment and continuous remediation efforts.

The soil sampling, which follows the completion of a first round of vapor testing, will assess the presence of contaminants, including dioxins, furans, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds, at the former Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site and surrounding neighborhood.

Identifying and evaluating soil samples for potential contamination is crucial for understanding and mitigating environmental risks to the community. The testing will provide valuable insights into the extent of contamination, both associated and unrelated to past activities at the HWPW site. All data gathered from the soil testing and previous vapor testing will inform the compilation of a health risk assessment for residents in the area.

Working under the direct oversight of the EPA, crews will use hand augers, shovels, and spoons to collect soil samples from depths ranging from ground level to 12 inches below the surface. Sampling will occur on the HWPW site and across five designated zones determined by the EPA, encompassing residential properties, schools, parks and recreation centers.

The selection of sampling locations has been a collaborative effort, with strategic coordination between the EPA, TCEQ, and local community stakeholders. Control samples obtained from off-site locations unaffected by past industrial activities will serve as benchmarks for comparison purposes.

Control sampling, the first step in the rigorous testing process, began in February 2024, with neighborhood soil sampling and on-site investigations scheduled to start in May, and continue through the end of summer or early fall. A second round of vapor testing is planned for the summer months to gauge the impact of heat on vapor migration.

Toni Harrison, spokesperson and community liaison for Union Pacific, reiterated the company's unwavering commitment to transparency and community engagement throughout the testing process.

"The safety and well-being of Fifth Ward residents are of utmost importance to Union Pacific," Harrison said. "We are dedicated to thorough testing, transparent communication, and proactive action to address any identified environmental concerns."

This soil testing initiative builds upon Union Pacific's years-long collaboration with regulatory agencies and local stakeholders. The company's comprehensive approach includes groundwater monitoring, vapor intrusion testing, and ongoing containment and remediation efforts to protect public health and the environment.

For more information about HWPW and Union Pacific's environmental initiatives and ongoing work to protect the community, please visit houstonwoodpreservingworks.com."

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