Cancer-causing dioxin soil sample found in Fifth Ward around Union Pacific rail yard

The Houston Health Department announced Friday it notified residents that surface samples collected in July around the Union Pacific rail yard in Fifth Ward contained cancer-causing chemicals. 

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FOX 26 has been following this story extensively, where Fifth Ward residents have long-complained to the City about a cancer cluster in the area. 

According to a press release shared Friday, health officials found a highly toxic chemical compound called dioxin, which is said to be associated with cancer and other serious health risks. 

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Lab analysis by the health department "indicates all 42 collected soil samples were contaminated with dioxin. Additionally, 27 percent of the dioxin sample concentrations exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) non-carcinogenic risk-based screening level of 51 nanograms per kilogram in soil for children."

"These tests results raise an added level of concern. No longer are we just talking about a dangerous plume beneath the surface, but a cancer-causing substance, dioxin, at the surface level. UP and the state must now change their entire remediation plan," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We have promised residents that the city will continue to test, monitor, and work in their best interest."

Health officials said they need to do some additional testing but admit "there is a strong link between environmental conditions within these communities and human health." 

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Residents in the area were notified of the test results and alerted community leaders in Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens as well. 

A spokesperson with Union Pacific Railroad shared the following statement with FOX 26: 

Union Pacific just received the results of the city of Houston’s study, after repeatedly asking for the data. The report shows the dioxin levels in the city’s samples are well below the Texas Commission on Environmental clean-up standards for dioxins in residential areas. Union Pacific understands residents will reasonably want more information. Attributing widespread dioxin only to operations at the former Southern Pacific Houston Wood Preserving Works site is unreasonable and inaccurate. Union Pacific will continue to work with the city of Houston, Harris County, and the Bayou City Initiative to collect data and to formulate a sound, science-based plan for moving forward. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dioxin-like compounds are found in soils everywhere due to a variety of sources. Among them: fuel combustion, including burning of domestic refuse; cigarette smoke; forest fires; and incineration of medical and hazardous wastes. Manufacturers, metal foundries, auto shops, electrical contractors, printing plants, laundromats, and other businesses all operated in the area over the span of 140 years.

To view the full report of the health department's findings, click here.