Black residents in cancer cluster demand creosote cleanup in their neighborhood 

The Fifth Ward community recently protested at Houston's Union Pacific against contamination caused by creosote used to preserve rail ties.

Residents of Houston’s Fifth Ward are renewing calls for the removal of creosote in their neighborhoods, which they claim has been causing cancer in their community. 

The community recently protested at Union Pacific in Houston against contamination by rail ties that were long treated with creosote to preserve them. The substance is now widely considered a likely carcinogen. According to The Houston Chronicle, the protests were part of ongoing calls for Union Pacific to clean up the contamination. 

Black people neighborhood
Residents of Houston’s Fifth Ward are renewing calls for the removal of creosote, which they claim has been causing cancer in their community. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

Earlier this year, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan promised improvements in the state, including aggressive industry inspections, enhanced air quality monitoring, and more effective regulation of ethylene oxide, according to The Houston Chronicle. 

In a news conference, Regan said that the EPA has finished reviewing Union Pacific’s plan to clean up the contaminated rail yard in Greater Fifth Ward. “This is just the beginning of EPA’s efforts to flip the script in terms of the unjust conditions underserved communities face,” Regan said, according to the Chronicle. 

The newspaper notes that creosote seeped into water and soil at the rail yard and remains present on the site. Residents have been advised not to drink ground well water, but to use city resources. 

“I am glad that the administration — and the administrator — sees the ability to connect the dots when we talk about environmental issues here, whether it’s air, water or ground,” Rev. James Caldwell—founder and director of Coalition of Community Organizations said according to the Chronicle. “And has a willingness to actually bring about a change and to address those issues and those concerns.”

Protesters in Houston have said that they have been subjected to conditions that residents in richer and whiter communities wouldn’t have been asked to tolerate. 

Creosote is a thick, tar-like substance, said Dr. Loren Hopkins, the Houston Health Department’s chief environmental officer, adding that no one knows how long the soil remediation process could take. (Credit: Adobe Stock)

Texas Observer article from August 2021 tells the story of Dianna Cormier-Jackson who grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward where she said that she lost her mother, brother, ex-husband, and brother-in-law to cancer. Her father died in a car accident, but an autopsy discovered a cancerous mass on his lung as well. She has called the contamination at the rail yard, “a lifetime of damage.” 

Creosote is a thick, tar-like substance, according to Dr. Loren Hopkins the Houston Health Department’s chief environmental officer. “No one knows how long this is going to take,” Hopkins said to the Observer of the soil remediation process’ long road ahead. “It isn’t likely that we’ll ever get to a point where it’s going to be gone.”

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