Harris Co Attorney Christian Menefee challenges Union Pacific’s plan to clean up 5th Ward cancer cluster
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a public meeting recently on a proposed plan submitted by Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific) to clean-up an inactive creosote facility located at 4910 Liberty Road in Houston’s Fifth Ward. Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee expressed serious concerns about the plan and TCEQ’s oversight process.

Christian Menefee

The contamination is near the area in which the Texas Department of Health of Human Services has identified as a “cancer cluster,” with higher than normal rates for lung, esophageal, and larynx cancers.

Menefee addressed the environmental damage caused by the now-inactive facility and the deficiencies in what Union Pacific has included in its proposed amendment to its Hazardous Waste Permit/Compliance Plan (the proposed clean-up plan).

Here is Menefee in his own words:

This facility operated in Fifth Ward—a historically Black and underserved community—for at least 70 years, and Union Pacific has known for decades that it contains hazardous waste and harmful amounts of chemicals and contaminants that have made their way into soil and groundwater.

This is a serious contamination issue—these chemicals include D-NAPL, a tar-like creosote liquid, that can stick to soil and soak into the groundwater, and benzene, which can cause cancer. Residents deserve better answers than what Union Pacific has currently given, and they deserve a clean-up plan that addresses every single issue raised by them, the federal government, and local government.

Residents also deserve better than the TCEQ’s deeply flawed process. Union Pacific filed its permit application back in 2014, yet the first official public meeting allowing public comment was not held until June 2021—seven years later. The TCEQ’s presentation was filled with jargon and confusing technical information that doesn’t clearly address key issues. My office has made several requests to the TCEQ for a contested hearing, which will allow an administrative judge to hear important issues about the clean-up.

We can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening in these communities. My grandmother raised her family in Fifth Ward. Other families have a similar story. They deserve a community that is safe from hazardous materials. They deserve to know their water is safe to drink, their air is safe to breathe, and that they aren’t exposed to toxic chemicals. My office is going to keep fighting to ensure the TCEQ makes Union Pacific do everything possible to clean up contamination the right way.