Houston Officials Approve $5M Fund for Relocation from Cancer-linked Rail Yard


In a bid to safeguard residents from potential health risks, Houston’s top officials gave the green light to a substantial $5 million fund on Wednesday. This fund is devoted to aiding the relocation of those residing in communities situated near a rail yard tainted with creosote, a wood preservative linked to cancer.

For decades, the high incidence of cancer in these areas has been attributed to exposure to pollutants from the rail yard. Once under the ownership of Southern Pacific before being taken over by Union Pacific, the rail yard is located in close proximity to two primarily Black communities, Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. For the better part of the 19th and 20th centuries, creosote was extensively utilized on this site – a substance now known to significantly heighten the risk of cancer. According to city officials, this contamination has infiltrated the groundwater serving these neighborhoods.

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In a city council conclave, where the funding was granted, Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed an ethical obligation on the part of Houston to aid in the relocation of inhabitants away from the multiple cancer hotspots that have been identified. Health authorities have reported elevated rates of respiratory and childhood cancers in these areas, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In Mayor Turner’s words, the possibility of loved ones and family members being diagnosed with and succumbing to cancer while struggling to attract attention to their plight presents a heartbreaking situation.

The mayor conceded that efforts to relocate families from nearly 100 properties tainted by the pollution could cost upwards of $35 million. In a quest to subsidize this costly program, the city is reviewing additional funding avenues, which may include a federal contribution.

Union Pacific has insisted on further testing to pinpoint the precise scale and origin of the neighborhood’s contamination. Following an order by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February calling for more extensive examinations, Union Pacific has reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate and conduct the necessary tests.

In July, Mayor Turner announced a novel city initiative designed to expedite voluntary relocations amongst residents, without waiting for additional test results.

Union Pacific, however, has refuted the city’s allegations. They have relayed studies from the Texas Department of State Health Services, indicating no links between the detected chemicals, including dioxins, and increased health concerns.

In response, the Houston Health Department accused Union Pacific of misrepresenting the state’s review of the soil samples and stressed the undeniable adverse influence of the rail yard on the community.

The approval of the $5 million fund had been postponed for a week as residents sought more detailed information about the relocation scheme. Wednesday’s endorsement signifies the initial phase of an inclusive process that will involve resident feedback on the functioning of the program.

LaTonya Payne, a grieving mother who lost her 13-year-old son, Corinthian Giles, to leukemia in 2021, expressed her gratitude to the council members, “Thank you mayor for what you are doing … It is definitely needed. We don’t want to continue to have to lose our children and others being diagnosed with cancer.”