Fifth Ward residents ask Union Pacific Railroad for answers about cancer cluster found in neighborhood



FIFTH QUARTER – The Environmental Protection Agency has given United Pacific Railroad until the end of the month to respond to a request for an action plan to clean up a contaminated site in Houston’s Fifth Ward, which is believed to be the source from an outbreak of cancer.

RELATED: Cluster of Cancers Found in Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens

Barry Breen, EPA’s interim deputy administrator, addressed the letter to Lance Fritz, president, chairman and CEO of Union Pacific on September 9.

“I am writing to respond to the serious concerns expressed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a phone call and in a subsequent letter to EPA Administrator Regan regarding health and wellness. residents who live near the Union Pacific Railroad Houston Wood Preserving Works. site ”, details the letter.

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Breen recognizes previously collected data that confirms creosote levels.

“Substantial data illustrates the severity of the pollution and health impacts facing the community living near the UPRR site, which is why the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice is leading efforts to improve coordination and communication on the cleanup for over a year, ”the letter continued.

The letter asks Union Pacific to respond by September 30 to two specific questions: when did it become aware of the contaminants at the site where workers used creosote, and what is its plan of action. to clean the contaminated area.

The letter follows years of rallies and a request by Mayor Turner in July for the Biden administration to seek fines and order the cleanup.

Sandra Edwards lives in Lavender Street, which is cut off by the Union Pacific Lot. Edwards is one of the leaders of Impact Fifth Ward, a community group that works to connect residents who have been affected by the creosote contamination.

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“People are dying here,” Edwards said.

According to Edwards, four residents remain on Lavender Street. Neighbors said many more had died from cancer.

“Now that we’ve proven that this is a problem here, how long does it take for the four of us to die, and then you’re going to close the street, and then you’re going to decide to test or do something,” Edwards asked.

Edwards said she was concerned the letter might lead to action because neighbors have sounded the alarm for years and still haven’t received many responses.

“I think they’re playing with us. I don’t think they take us seriously, ”said Edwards.

Neighbors want Union Pacific required to regularly test the area for contamination as fear grows the underground plume has spread.

“You smell the smell killing you and if you walk here you stir up dust every time you walk here. So that kills you too, ”said Walter Mallett, a resident of Kashmere Gardens.

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Mallett, like other residents, is concerned the plume could spread if action is not taken quickly.

“You have already established that there is a problem. Why not take action, ”he continued.

A Union Pacific Railroad representative confirmed on Friday that the railroad is reviewing the EPA letter.

“Union Pacific has received the September 9 letter from the EPA and is reviewing it in detail. We welcome a dialogue with the US EPA to share any testing and scientific information that has already been shared with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, local officials, and the public regarding the clean-up efforts of the current site and site clean-up efforts over the past 30 years, ”wrote Kristen South, senior director of corporate communications and media relations, Union Pacific Railroad, in a statement to KPRC 2.

As the battle over what to do continues, neighbors have asked for legal representation.

Rodrigo Cantú is a lawyer of Lone Star Legal Aid. Cantú represents Edwards and other members of the Impact Fifth Ward group.

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“I think it’s great that EPA is getting more involved and more interested in this issue,” Cantú said. “It will be interesting to see what UP does in response. I guess they’re just going to produce reports that they send to TCEQ from the start.

It remains to be seen how the Union Pacific reacts. Cantú said any action taken must include regular testing of the region’s soil and sharing that data with the public.

Edwards said the data would confirm what loss had already shown him. In the meantime, she waits.

“It’s like we’re doing circles and circles and circles, but we’re not going anywhere. I haven’t seen a circle come true yet, ”said Edwards.

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