EPA Probes Houston's Fifth Ward Cancer Scare as Union Pacific Accused of Contaminating Community

EPA Probes Houston's Fifth Ward Cancer Scare as Union Pacific Accused of Contaminating CommunitySource: Google Street View
John Becker
Published on November 28, 2023

Residents of Houston's historically Black Fifth Ward neighborhood, haunted by cancer and disease, are finally seeing the wheels of justice churn as the EPA steps in to probe a potential toxic nightmare right beneath their homes. Allegations have long swirled that contamination from a defunct wood-preserving facility has been poisoning the community, leading to a rash of illnesses. According to the ABC13 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began its investigation on Wednesday to ascertain whether there's a link between the contamination and the cancer clusters devastating Fifth Ward residents.

Joetta Stevenson, president of the Greater Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood, declared, "We will not shut up. We will not be silenced." Stevenson's own battles with breast cancer, which she faced twice despite no family history of the condition, echo the trauma reverberating throughout her community. "It changed my entire life, my whole existence. It was so devastating to me as a person, physically, and emotionally, and financially," she told ABC13. Casey Luckett from the EPA stated that the agency's intense investigation could take up to six to eight months, after which they may call for a cleanup.

Houston Wood Preserving Works, run by Southern Pacific Transportation, which became part of Union Pacific Railroad in 1997, was where wooden rail ties were soaked in the carcinogenic substance creosote. The Houston Chronicle noted that despite shutting down in 1984, the open-air pit where vast amounts of creosote, along with other toxic chemicals from local Superfund sites, were stored continued to haunt the community, with contaminants leaching into the ground.

The City of Houston launched its own offensive, including a "strike force" to help relocate afflicted families.

As Eagle-eyed EPA officials proceed with their meticulous testing regime, the Fifth Ward community holds its collective breath for a resolution. Results from next summer's risk assessment will determine if the neighborhood stands on safe ground or if Union Pacific will be mandated to clean up the mess left in their tracks.