Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the City of Houston has delivered to Union Pacific Railroad a Notice of Intent to sue under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The City’s letter can be found here.
The lawsuit is being filed for the imminent and substantial endangerment from environmental contamination from UP’s facilities on Liberty Road, in the Greater Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhoods. The City is required by law to deliver a 90 – day notice of intent to sue before it can file a lawsuit.
Watch the news conference and announcement here
The City is joined in this effort by Harris County Attorney Christian D Menefee, (Harris County letter) and an organization of private citizens, called The Bayou City Initiative, led by Jim Blackburn.(BCI letter) Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and State Senator Borris Miles attended Wednesday’s news conference along with several members of the community who spoke in favor of the action.
“The letter to UP is the latest step in the City’s ongoing efforts to bring redress to the historically African-American communities of the Greater Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “For too long and at too high a cost, UP has ignored and disrespected these communities. The cost is too high, and the burden on these residents is too great.”
“The City has urged and will continue to urge the federal government to join and lead the future lawsuit against Union Pacific. This active involvement by the federal government is expressly provided for in the statute and would bring to bear the greater resources of the federal government in litigating these claims and providing relief to the residents, particularly funds for new housing,” said City of Houston Attorney Arturo Michel.
Historical operations at the UP Facility include creosote treatment and waste disposal. The resulting contamination reached the groundwater of the Greater Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens neighborhoods.
The UP Facility and surrounding properties continue to be contaminated, today, with numerous hazardous materials and these waste materials continue to move underground, migrating further off-site from the facility.
“Our neighbors in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens have waited too long for a clean up plan from Union Pacific. The state has identified two cancer clusters in the area, but people continue to die while we wait for answers,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “We’re asking for a plan that fully investigates the extent of contamination, fully assesses the health risks of that contamination and protects people moving forward.” “
“BCI is filing this notice of intent to sue even though a permit proceeding has been ongoing for years at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,” says Jim Blackburn, President of BCI. “The TCEQ process is quite slow and cumbersome and several cancer clusters have been identified by the Texas Department of Health. It is time for this process to be expedited and this notice of intent to sue starts the process for a direct filing in federal district court.”
“Families living near the Union Pacific site in Kashmere Gardens have suffered and will continue to be harmed until there is robust remediation and cleanup of the site. I’m so proud that the City of Houston and Harris County are partnering to take action to protect this community and root out the vestiges of environmental racism,” said Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
“I want to thank Mayor Turner, County Attorney Menefee and the Bayou City Initiative on filing this lawsuit against Union Pacific. The City’s finding of dioxin on top of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ finding of a confirmed cancer cluster surrounding the Union Pacific site is alarming and demands action. It’s time to send a message that the black and brown neighborhoods of Houston will no longer be the dumping ground for industry. Environmental racism in these communities must end. The Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens communities have been waiting far too long and lost too many family and friends for us not to act,” Texas State Senator Borris L. Miles, District 13.
Earlier this month, the City announced the discovery of the chemical Dioxin in a single surface soil sample taken on June 15, 2022, near Liberty Road and Lavender St. in Kashmere Gardens. Following the detection in the initial sample, the Health Department gathered more samples and is conducting laboratory testing of the samples. The Health Department is also proceeding with a community plan to inform residents. It will continue working closely with the EPA, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The finding of Dioxin in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens area is noteworthy and underscores why we are working aggressively to protect families and their children. We already know that the Texas Department of State Health Services found a higher-than-expected acute lymphoblastic leukemia cancer rate at nearly five times the expected rate in that community.
“We cannot stand still and do nothing while people die or their health suffers. So, we are looking at how we can assist people in Kashmere Gardens and the Fifth Ward. As we move forward in this collective action, people need relief, and they needed it years ago,” said Mayor Turner.