• Bobby Knowles

Cancer Cluster Found in Houston Neighborhood

New study could determine link between north Houston cancer cluster, contaminated rail yard

By Erin Douglas 2 min

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The Texas Department of State Health Services is taking the first step toward a study to determine whether there is a link between elevated rates of cancers in a north Houston neighborhood and legacy contamination from a nearby rail yard. Creosote, a wood preservative that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, was used for decades near the Englewood Rail Yard in North Houston. The contamination from the site on Liberty Road, which is now owned by Union Pacific, sunk deep beneath the ground, forming a plume that, in recent years, moved beneath an estimated 110 properties in the area. Upon notification of contaminated groundwater beneath their homes, residents began to wonder if the contamination was linked to health problems in the area. In August 2019, the state’s health department identified higher than expected rates of certain cancers in the area, specifically lung and bronchus, esophagus, and larynx. However, the analysis cannot determine what caused the elevated rates of cancers. On Texas found a cancer cluster in Houston in August. Residents didn’t find out until December. The state will conduct a feasibility study to determine if an epidemiological study, which would attempt to identify potential causes of cancers in the area, should be conducted, according to a letter from Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. The state will create a panel made up of epidemiology, oncology and toxicology experts as well as a resident to represent the affected community, Hellerstedt wrote. The panel will determine whether an epidemiological study will be feasible, and if so, design the study. Harris County Commissioners Court in December approved a request from Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to hire an expert to investigate the site and file a lawsuit if necessary. In January, Ryan requested that the state health department consider the epidemiological study. “We will do everything necessary to protect our residents,” Ryan said in a statement. “This study is the first step forward.” Politicians and local agencies in recent months have mobilized to obtain more research on the issue as well as call for remediation efforts and compensation for those affected. Residents in the area immediately surrounding the yard were assured by the City of Houston last year that their drinking water is safe. Homes in the area use water from the city’s reservoirs, not the contaminated groundwater.

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