Union Pacific addresses “cancer cluster” in Houston’s Fifth Ward

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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Union Pacific laid off an “unspecified number of workers” at Bailey Yard.
David C. Lester

The site of a long inactive creosote processing facility in Houston’s Fifth Ward, owned by Union Pacific for the past twenty years, was the center of discussion at a recent community meeting.

Houston’s KHOU11 CBS News reports many residents in the area suspect that this facility was, at some point, hazardous to human health. Grace Myrick, who lives close to the old facility, said “My sister died of myeloma.” And, KHOU 11 News reports that other residents have reported cancer issues to the news organization. Myrick added that when the facility was open years ago, “They would sound an alarm for you to get out of here because you could not breath when they were burning the creosote.”

Union Pacific Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, Brenda Mainwaring, said “There are no violations at this site. We’ve been studying the site for [the] 20 years we’ve owned it and it was studied before that. And, the science and the research shows there’s no pathway for the impacted materials to get to residents.”

Although a link between cancers in the area and the creosote could not be conclusively established, data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, updated on Friday, Jan. 17, found that the levels of several cancers in the area are higher than normal.

Union Pacific has, however, alerted residents in the past that they should not dig wells in the area. Mainwaring said “From 25 to 66 stories below the soil, there may be some solid creosote down there. It has a potential to get into the groundwater.”

KHOU 11 News also reported that Erin Brockovich, an attorney and activist focused on environmental issues, attended the community meeting in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Ms. Brockovich was the subject of a movie made in 2000, entitled Erin Brockovich, and was depicted by actress Julia Roberts. Roberts won an Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance.

To download the Texas Department of Health Services report, please click here.

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