High cancer rates found in downtown Houston Gardens in expanded cluster analysis

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State officials found higher-than-expected cancer rates in Houston Gardens, Frenchtown and parts of downtown in an analysis that spans 2019 results that identified a cluster of cancers in an area near a long-contaminated marshalling yard.

The State Department of Health Services has identified higher cancer rates in six additional census tracts in Houston, according to the March report, which complements a report last year that identified a cluster of cancers in Houston’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhoods..

The extended scan covers approximately 30 square miles of northeast Houston. It started in response to residents of Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens who blamed a long-contaminated Union Pacific-owned rail yard site for unusually high disease rates in the neighborhood.

Englewood’s yard operations included treating the wooden ties with the hazardous creosote, a preservative considered a probable carcinogen, or carcinogen, by the Environmental Protection Agency. It has been in use for over 80 years at the Liberty Road marshalling yard.

Creosote treatments ceased in the 1980s, but the chemicals sank deep into the soil and created a toxic plume that moved under more than 100 properties and contaminated groundwater, environmental records show. of State.

The state’s analysis only identifies types of cancers that occurred at a statistically higher rate in the region between 2000 and 2016. The analysis does not attempt to determine the causes.

Higher than expected rates of cancers of the lung, liver, esophagus and larynx were found in 12 of the 21 census tracts included in the analysis. State officials did not find high rates of cancer in census tracts further east of downtown Denver Harbor, Houston’s Second Ward and Pleasantville.

State health officials have identified higher than expected cancer rates in 12 or 21 census tracts analyzed in northeast Houston.

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The Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA), a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization in Houston, called the broader analysis incomplete and called for more testing. THEA said the state should expand the analysis to include children and take into account data prior to the year 2000.

Houston Gardens, an area where high rates of cancer have been found, is adjacent to another Union Pacific-owned rail yard. The courtyard, on Kirkpatric Boulevard, and connected by rail to the courtyard just a mile southeast on Liberty Road in the Fifth Ward where creosote processing operations caused the plume of contamination underground.

In a statement, Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulate hundreds of other chemically contaminated sites in the region.

“Any fair assessment of the causality of any health problem in this area must take this reality into account,” Espinoza said. “The (state) assessment does not address the issue of causation.”

In February, Texas State Department Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt wrote in a letter to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan that the state would conduct a feasibility study to determine whether an epidemiological study had to be conducted. An epidemiological study would attempt to identify the causes of cancers in the region.

Steven Lester, toxicologist and scientific director of the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, an environmental advocacy group in Virginia, said he believed the analysis of cancer clusters provided sufficient evidence for the state to test whether people are exposed to creosote and what caused the cancers.

“These chemicals are volatile and they move towards the residential area to the north of the property,” Lester said last month at an online roundtable hosted by THEA. “Questions remain as to whether people are exposed to these chemicals. Tests should be done to determine if these chemicals are present in nearby homes. “

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