Black cancer crisis in north Houston

Cancer Cluster Leisa Glenn stands in their Fifth Ward neighborhood on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Houston. A cancer cluster was identified in the the historically black north Houston neighborhoods of the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens, near a site of legacy contamination from rail yard operations. Creosote was used for decades to treat wooden railroad ties in the yard. Though wood treatment has ceased for many years, the creosote sunk deep into the ground, creating a plume that has moved beneath an estimated 110 homes. The cancers identified in the cluster are associated with the contaminants found in creosote. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) findings confirm higher incidents of cancer outside of normal rates in Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens, Settegast, Independence Heights and other Northeast Houston communities.

Specifically, the DSHS analyzed the Texas Cancer Registry available from 2000 to 2016,” as it relates to the affected areas, in which “lung, bronchus esophagus, and larynx cancers were statistically significantly greater than expected.”

The report also found that the types of cancers which were identified in the study are consistent with arsenic being present in the area, which comprises creosote.

Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee organized a community  meeting to discuss the cancer cluster study in addition to coordinating a community assessment to identify expanded cancer clusters and other health concerns related to environmental contamination caused by creosote.

“Given the findings of the DSHS report, and the impact this has on the health and well-being on my constituents in Kashmere Gardens, I urged the EPA to initiate and conduct a comprehensive investigation and issue a thorough report on the incidences of cancer clusters in the Fifth Ward,” Jackson Lee said.

“I heard stories that were stark in their nature, compelling and of the type which demand action. Speaker after speaker at this community meeting spoke of the existence of cancer, either in themselves or in their relatives.

It was startling. One participant spoke of having a vegetable garden and concerns about  whether it was safe to eat the food grown. Another spoke about recalling the runoff that would fill ditches when it would rain and the smell of creosote near where they lived.

“I will not relent until the community and its citizens have answers about the impact creosote has in the lives and health of my constituents,” she said.