Union Pacific seeking Fifth Ward resident's permission for extensive soil testing

Union Pacific has announced they are requesting permission from property owners in Houston's Fifth Ward to sample the soil in their yards, according to a release. 

Officials said Union Pacific is partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the City of Houston, Harris County and Bayou City Initiative (BCI), to design a soil testing plan for properties located near the former Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site. 

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Starting the week of September 11, Union Pacific representatives will begin going to certain properties that the EPA has approved for soil testing. 

Union Pacific Officials said the effort is part of the railroad's commitment to provide transparency and timely action to safeguard the community for generations to come. Testing is the most accepted method to determine the degree of contamination at a location and its potential source. 

Testing will be paid for by Union Pacific and completed under the guidance and approval of the EPA. Soil sampling is a simple and low-intrusive process that does not cause property damage; however, it requires a homeowner to grant Union Pacific and the EPA permission to access their property. 

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Union Pacific said they will make the complete test results available to the public once they have been received from an EPA approved laboratory and validated by scientists. The results will also help inform a risk assessment, enabling the EPA to make decisions about any next steps to protect the community.

Union Pacific, along with its collaborating partners at the City, County and BCI, asked the EPA to provide oversight for additional soil testing. The Houston Health Department independently conducted some additional sampling in September 2022. Although the Texas Department of State Health Services reviewed the city’s data and found no cancer or health concerns linked to the presence of chemicals, including dioxins, in the soil samples collected near the former HWPW site, Union Pacific remains committed to bringing action and resolution to the community.

"Union Pacific cares about the community; they deserve complete information and action. That’s why Union Pacific is committed to transparent, open communication throughout every next step until the job is complete," said Toni Harrison, Union Pacific spokesperson in a release. "This means making sure sampling and testing, and every necessary next step enables the community to mend in a safe and sustainable environment for generations to come."

In all, Union Pacific is seeking permission from more than 300 residents and landowners located near the former HWPW site. Additionally, the railroad will test several parks, schools, and other properties.