Fifth Ward Cancer Cluster: EPA finds 41 creosote-linked chemicals in neighborhood

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified 41 creosote-related chemicals as Potential Contaminants of Concern (PCOCs) in the vapor intrusion samples of the Fifth Ward area.

Creosote is a toxic chemical found at a former wood-preserving works site once operated by Southern Pacific. The site ceased operation in 1984, and Union Pacific assumed ownership of the site in 1997.

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Neighbors have been heavily impacted by a concerning cancer cluster there for years. They tell FOX 26 that many continue to be diagnosed with rare and severe forms of cancer, and some residents are still dying due to complications.

UP conducted previous testing in the area in 2020 and found no significant health risks from the site. The most recent assessment is more comprehensive and will cover a wider community area.

"I already knew," said Fifth Ward resident Sandra Edwards about the results. "This is why we pushed to get this done. We're living out here. We know something is wrong. People are not just dropping dead."

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A spokesperson for the EPA tells Fox 26 that the results include data from samples of soil gas, groundwater, and sewers taken at 117 locations on public rights-of-way and at private properties.

Union Pacific and the EPA began testing groundwater in the neighborhood in November. These initial vapor tests represent the first phase of UPRR's EPA-approved plan, which includes extensive soil and air screening.

Toni Harrison, spokesperson for UPRR, emphasized the importance of transparency and ongoing communication with the public throughout this process. "We will continue working closely with regulators and subject-matter experts," Harrison stated.

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The next phase of testing, slated to be the most extensive to date in the Fifth Ward, will commence soon. It will involve a second round of vapor testing during the summer to evaluate the impact of warmer weather on vapor migration.

"We knew these numbers were high...we just couldn't prove it. Now that it's out there, what's the next step?" asked Edwards.

EPA staff will host a community meeting in late April to review the available data and answer questions. You can read the newest results here.