Houston plans to spend millions of dollars to relocate residents from neighborhoods located near a rail yard polluted by a cancer-linked wood preservative that has been blamed for an increase in cancer cases, the city’s mayor announced Thursday.
Texas health officials in 2019 identified a cancer cluster in Houston’s historically Black Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhoods. A second cluster was identified in 2021. Health officials have found higher rates of respiratory cancers as well as childhood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Residents and local officials have long blamed the high number of cancer cases on contamination from a Union Pacific rail yard near both neighborhoods. Creosote, which has been associated with an increased risk of contracting cancer, was used for more than 80 years at the site until the 1980s. City officials say the contamination has reached the groundwater in the neighborhoods.
In a statement, Union Pacific said additional testing is “required to accurately determine the true extent and source of contamination in the neighborhood. Relocation should be based on a human health risk assessment.”
Union Pacific said it’s focused on the community’s safety, and it has “made measurable progress with on-site clean-up since acquiring the property in a 1997 merger and are committed to finishing the job.”
Turner said relocating families from among the 100 properties that have been affected by the contamination could cost up to $26 million. The city is looking at internal as well as federal funding to help pay for the relocation program, which will be put together by a strike force made up of health, housing and community development officials.
No timetable was given for when the relocation process could be completed. Turner said the relocation effort will extend beyond his administration as his final term as mayor concludes at the end of December.