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City of Houston, Harris County to sue Union Pacific over toxic contamination in Fifth Ward

The city of Houston and the Harris Co. attorney intend to file a lawsuit against Union Pacific over a toxic site allegedly causing cancer in nearby communities.

HOUSTON — The city of Houston, along with Harris County Attorney Christian D Menefee, on Tuesday, announced their intentions to file a lawsuit against Union Pacific alleging "long-standing contamination" in the city's Fifth Ward.

Contamination from a toxic Union Pacific site has been blamed for "cancer clusters" appearing in nearby communities for years.

RELATED: Community continues fight to clean up toxic railroad site being blamed for 'cancer clusters'

"Residents of the Fifth Ward, a historically Black and underserved community, have dealt with negative health effects from hazardous waste and chemicals for decades. Both children and adults in the area are subject to higher rates of certain types of cancers, and it’s time that we ensure they have the clean air and water they deserve. Union Pacific should be held accountable for the harm this facility has caused to its neighbors," Menefee said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner also intends to file a suit on behalf of the city.

"Communities of color disproportionately bear the burden of industrial pollution. The (Union Pacific) facility here is a textbook example. (Union Pacific) can and must take all necessary steps to address the contamination from its dangerous chemicals and the adverse consequences to our residents."

The toxic site in question was once used to treat wood with a chemical mixture called creosote.

A study by the Texas Department of State Health Services conducted last year showed that children in the areas surrounding the site had elevated levels of leukemia.

RELATED: 'Move us out or buy us out' | Alarming study finds cancer cluster involving children in Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens

As a part of KHOU 11's reporting in 2021, Union Pacific admitted that solid creosote may contaminate some groundwater up to 66 stories below the soil and has warned residents about digging wells.

Last year, the railroad said decades of testing show no exposure pathway from the creosote site to any resident.

“We sympathize with families who have loved ones undergoing medical treatment," Union Pacific said in a statement last year. "Union Pacific continues to follow the science as we evaluate the updated assessments.”

According to the Harris County Attorney's Office, notices of intent to sue will be sent to Union Pacific, the U.S. Environmental Agency, the Attorney General of the United States, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the coming weeks.

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