Houston cancer cluster detected near site contaminated by creosote

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A January report from the Texas Department of Health Services found children living near a former railroad yard in Houston's historically Black Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhood contracted leukemia at a five times greater rate compared to the state average, the Houston Chronicle reports. 

For decades, operations at the site included treating wooden railroad ties with creosote, a chemical mixture used as a preservative, local CBS affiliate KHOU 11 reports. 

The latest report follows an earlier cancer cluster identified in the region in 2019, when a health department investigation found higher rates or respiratory cancers such as esophageal and throat cancer, according to the Chronicle. 

"Someone needs to be held accountable for the healthcare costs of these families and specifically these children," Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Chronicle. 

Union Pacific, which owns the legacy contamination site, told KHOU 11 that solid creosote may contaminate some ground water up to 66 stories below the soil and has warned against digging wells, though decades of its testing have not found a pathway between the site and residents. 

Union Pacific shared the following statement with the news station Jan. 22: "We sympathize with families who have loved ones undergoing medical treatment. Union Pacific continues to follow the science as we evaluate the updated assessments. At this point, decades of testing show no exposure pathway from Union Pacific's site to any resident. We've consistently met with many stakeholders and are planning meetings with more in the future." 

IMPACT, a community organization formed in response to the creosote contamination, is calling for more resources such as medical clinics, targeted health screenings and additional studies to further address the health inequities, the Chronicle reports. 

To read the full Houston Chronicle story, click here. 

To watch the KHOU 11 report, click here. 

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