Under Attack: A Public Health Crisis for Houston

Photo by Aro Ha

A health survey indicates forty-three percent of Houston’s Fifth Ward families living in homes located over a creosote contamination plume report at least one cancer diagnosis.

The percentage is relatively high for the neighborhood since the average cancer diagnosis for Houston is 6.1 percent. Most received a cancer diagnosis after 2003.

Historic Injustice

Lung cancer was one of the most common types of cancer among respondents or their family members, the survey also points out. It is one of the cancers associated with the chemicals of concern identified by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the Union Pacific Railroad groundwater contamination.

“It is disconcerting that people with a cancer diagnosis in this neighborhood may have been exposed to creosote for four decades,” said Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer at the Houston Health Department.

Worse Than Expected

In all fairness, this problem was inherited, by Union Pacific Railroad and the plume of cancer-causing chemical creosote had spread to the neighborhood over many decades before their purchase. A Texas Department of State Health Services report in August identified several census tracts in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens with greater-than-expected incidences of adult cancers of the lung, esophagus and throat.
Other survey findings include:

  • Households with a family member diagnosed with cancer report facing financial challenges that include depleted savings, unpaid medical bills, going into debt and unpaid bills that resulted in the shut off of utilities.

  • Nearly a third of respondents with a cancer diagnosis reported irregular menstruation and slightly more than a fifth reported a child with low birth weight or infertility.

  • Most of the respondents noticed an oily smell or oily water.

  • The top three chronic diseases affecting respondents were allergies, diabetes and high blood pressure.

We will keep you updated. We’re hoping Union Pacific addresses these issue in a meaningful, measurable and authentic manner.


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Written by thetremag

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