Energy & Environment

Houston, county attorney plan to sue Union Pacific for inadequate Fifth Ward cleanup plan

The Union Pacific railyard is contaminated with creosote, a likely human carcinogen that resulted in Kashmere Gardens being deemed a cancer cluster in 2019.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
The Union Pacific railyard, located near Kashmere Gardens. Residents say the railyard is responsible for the cancer cluster in Kashmere Gardens. Taken on Jan. 27, 2021.

The city of Houston and the Harris County Attorney’s Office plan to sue Union Pacific over its proposed cleanup plan for a contaminated section of the Fifth Ward.

The Union Pacific railyard is contaminated with creosote, a likely human carcinogen that resulted in Kashmere Gardens being deemed a cancer cluster in 2019. Union Pacific claims they have been working to investigate and clean up the railyard land for the past 30 years.

But Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says the company hasn't done enough, which is why they plan to sue.

"I'm looking for a plan that ensures that the families are either financially made whole, or that their living circumstances are addressed, as a result of the contamination that has occurred in the past," he said.

The city and the attorney’s office are also looking to make the area a safe place for residents to live. If the company is unable to provide a sustainable clean up plan, Menefee says they'll have to pay for resident relocation fees.

A public meeting in May also laid out resident worries regarding Union Pacific's proposed plan.

Menefee claims the health issues are the main focus of the lawsuit, especially the fact that the neighborhood has been deemed a cancer cluster.

"In fact, a very important part of the issue is the harm that has been done to the people who live in these neighborhoods, and that includes cancer," he said. "So I don’t believe that you can have any real discussion about solving these problems without talking about the cancer issue, and without trying to find solutions to those problems."

The current plan proposed by Union Pacific officials has the company building an underground wall on the north and east sides of the contaminated site that they claim would prevent the groundwater from spreading. There are also plans to build wells that would extract the contaminated water from the site.

Union Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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