Dioxin Detected Near Union Pacific Railyard Suspected in Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens Cancer Cluster
The Houston Health Department has detected highly toxic dioxin in surface soil surrounding a contaminated Union Pacific Railroad, the industrial site considered the main suspect in a cancer cluster plaguing the city’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhoods.
Union Pacific Dioxin Findings a “Game Changer”
According to Click2Houston.com, Dr. Loren Hopkins of the Houston Health Department called the findings a game changer.
“Dioxin is a carcinogen, and it’s linked to cancer and one cancer it’s linked to is liver cancer and that’s actually one of the cancers that are shown to be spastically higher around the site so it’s super concerning,” she said.
“That action should continue to evolve the city, the health department, and the community so better coordinated efforts and really expediency to make sure we can keep that community safe.”
Residents of Historically Black Neighborhoods Suffer from Higher Rates of Cancer
In 2019, researchers from the Texas Department of State Health Services identified higher rates of adult and childhood cancers in the historically Black communities surrounding the railyard, including adult esophagus, larynx, lung, and bronchus cancers. They also found higher rates of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
People living in those neighborhoods have been fighting to have the site remediated for years. Although Union Pacific has proposed a plan, residents, advocates, and politicians complain that it doesn’t go far enough to address the scope of the problem.
In July, the city of Houston announced its intention to sue Union Pacific over the contamination.
Dioxin is a “Dirty Dozen” Chemical
Dioxin is highly toxic and belongs to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Due to its chemical stability and ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, dioxin remains in the body for quite a long time. In fact, the chemical’s half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years.
According to The Houston Health Department, analysis indicates that all 42 soil samples collected around the Union Pacific site were contaminated with dioxin. Moreover, 27% of the dioxin sample concentrations exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s non-carcinogenic risk-based screening level of 51 nanograms per kilogram in soil for children.
The sampling also indicates that the highest dioxin concentrations are present at the fence line and decrease in areas farther away from the 33-acre site. Further soil sampling will be necessary to determine the extent of the contamination in the neighborhoods surrounding the railyard.
Dioxin Findings Could Alter Union Pacific Remediation Plan
According to The Texas Tribune, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner suggested that Union Pacific’s plan for cleaning the site is no longer adequate in light of these findings.
“These tests results raise an added level of concern,” he said in a new release. “No longer are we just talking about a dangerous plume beneath the surface, but a cancer-causing substance, dioxin, at the surface level. UP and the state must now change their entire remediation plan. We have promised residents that the city will continue to test, monitor, and work in their best interest.”
Turner said the city has identified some areas near the railyard for “possible relocation” of residents, particularly those who live above the underground plume of contamination.
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Our Undefeated Houston Personal Injury Lawyers are investigating the Union Pacific Railyard contamination and the role it may have played in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens cancer cluster. We will continue to post updates as additional information becomes available.
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