Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee Challenges Union Pacific’s Proposed Plan to Clean Up Contamination near 5th Ward Cancer Cluster
Houston, Texas (June 22, 2021) —The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a public meeting last night 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. 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.
County Attorney 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):
“This facility operated in Fifth Ward—a historically Black and underserved community—or 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.”
About the Harris County Attorney’s Office
Christian D. Menefee serves as the Harris County Attorney, the County's chief civil lawyer. The Harris County Attorney's Office is committed to protecting and proactively advocating for the interests of Harris County residents and government through the civil justice system. Menefee continues to be a voice for the people, standing up for vulnerable communities and using civil actions to ensure our rights are protected and expanded.