Houston, Texas – The City of Houston and Harris County are pleased to report that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency has issued an order to Union Pacific Railroad providing that EPA will oversee the offsite investigative and cleanup process related to the creosote contamination in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. This order is the result of efforts that have been and continue to be pushed forward by the City of Houston, Harris County, and the Bayou City Initiative in their negotiations with Union Pacific.
The EPA’s order—issued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Superfund law—notes EPA’s concern that the Union Pacific facility may present an imminent and substantial endangerment and provides for direct federal oversight of dramatically expanded environmental investigation and cleanup efforts at and around the site, including:
- enhanced testing by Union Pacific under EPA oversight for harmful contaminants (including dioxins and soil vapors), both at the Houston Wood Preserving Works Site and offsite (including local residences);
- defined risk evaluation to determine risks to human health and the environment;
- an expedited testing and evaluation timeline;
- EPA-led community engagement; and
- EPA-set deadlines on specific conduct required of Union Pacific including penalties for any failure to meet those deadlines.
"This is a significant step in the right direction, and I am pleased the EPA is taking the lead on UPPR's cleanup and investigative process. For far too long, the concerns of families in Fifth Ward have been dismissed, and residents have suffered the consequences of being forced to endure decades of uncertainty and higher-than-normal incidents of cancer in the community," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "The City will continue to advocate for the area, and I will not be satisfied until residents have answers and accountability to help them move forward."
“Throughout this process, my goal has been to ensure we know exactly what community members are being exposed to and that we make life safe for the folks who live and work in these neighborhoods as quickly as possible,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “This action by the EPA—in collaboration with the county, the city, the Bayou City Initiative, and Union Pacific—means a faster and more thorough investigation. That sets the stage for a thorough clean up. The folks living in Kashmere Gardens and the Fifth Ward deserve that.”
These positive developments reflect long-standing and dedicated outreach by the City, the County, and their partners to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, EPA Regional Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance, and key members of EPA’s environmental justice team. These developments also reflect the compelling effect of the Notices of Intent to sue Union Pacific under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act issued by the City, the County, and the Bayou City Initiative in 2022.
Those threatened lawsuits brought Union Pacific to the negotiating table with a new level of seriousness to finally begin taking actions intended to directly improve the health and safety of communities in the vicinity of the Union Pacific facility.