Texas Health Department Finds 43% Of Homes In Black Houston Neighborhood Had A Cancer Diagnosis
"My sister died of myeloma,” one resident said.
Texas state officials are investigating after an alarming number of cancer cases were found in a Houston neighborhood.
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The Texas State Department of Health Services determined Houston’s Fifth Ward is a cancer cluster. The department conducted a survey and found 43% of families had experienced a cancer diagnosis, per FOX26.
“Based on cancer rates in Texas, adult (ages 20 years or older) liver cancer was statistically significantly greater than expected in all ten census tracts analyzed together between 2000-2016,” the report read.
In addition to liver cancer, other forms of the disease are prevalent.
“Additionally, based on cancer rates in Texas, adult (ages 20 years or older) esophagus, larynx, liver, and lung and bronchus cancers were statistically significantly greater than expected in certain census tracts,” the report continued.
According to data from the city of Houston, the Fifth Ward’s residents are 48% Black, 46% Latinx and 4% white. Most households survive on less than $25,000 a year.
The residents live in houses built over land contaminated by creosote, a carcinogen used to treat wood railroad ties. The community is close to the Englewood Rail Yard. The creosote most likely seeped into the soil and infected the groundwater. Residents also blamed the shuttered Liberty Road site, which is owned by Union Pacific.
Brenda Mainwaring, Union Pacific assistant vice president for public affairs, brushed off the findings.
"There are no violations at this site,” said Mainwaring. "We’ve been studying the site for 20 years we’ve owned it and it was studied before that. And the science and the research shows there’s no pathway for the impacted materials to get to residents.”
Mainwaring suggested residents might be endangering themselves by building wells.
"From 25 to 66 stories below the soil, there may be some solid creosote down there," she said. "It has a potential to get into the groundwater.”
Fifth Ward resident Grace Myrick has been personally affected by the crisis.
"My sister died of myeloma,” Myrick told KHOU. "They would sound an alarm for you to get out of here because you could not breathe when they were burning the creosote."
Joe Ballard, another resident, has suffered several losses. His grandfather and great-grandfather also worked at a local creosote plant.
“All these houses — my grandma’s house, my auntie, my cousin, all the Williamses around here, all those people are gone. Died of cancer,” Ballard said. “We don’t know what cancer, but they died of cancer.”
On Tuesday night, a town hall meeting was held at a local high school to address the issue, reports The Houston Chronicle.
“This is serious,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said during the meeting. “(The African American and black community) are living in areas where we are more subject to the environmental issues that cause our life expectancy to go down. We understand that there has to be some collaborative relief.”