Environmental Justice: Houston’s Cancer Cluster

Houston’s Cancer Cluster

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the Houston group Impact, formed in 2016 to pressure the Texas Department of Health to investigate the large number of cancer deaths occurring in the majority African American Fifth Ward and Kashmere Garden neighborhoods.

In response to grassroots lobbying, the Department of Health performed an epidemiological study, which they released in September 2019. It revealed cancer rates in both neighborhoods were significantly higher than the state average.

Local families and health professionals blame the high cancer rate on creosote contamination of soil and groundwater from a nearby Union Pacific rail yard. Between 1911 and 1984, Union Pacific treated wooden railway ties with the preservative creosote (a toxic mixture of cancer causing chemicals). In January 2020, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee helped Impact organize a public meeting featuring nationally renowned anti-toxics activist Erin Brokovitch.

Impact demands that the state of Texas force Union Pacific (which made a profit of $6 billion in 2019) to address the creosote contamination, either by removing toxic chemicals from the soil and groundwater or paying for affect residents to move elsewhere.

In speaking with filmmakers, local activists reveal that regulators first learned about the contaminated groundwater in the 1980s but never informed residents.

In the US, communities of color are more likely to live near toxic and polluting industries because of the relatively low value of nearby land.

 

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