By: Kenneth Payne
People living around the polluted cancer cluster area in Fifth Ward/Kashmere Gardens has been a silent tragic epidemic in this community for many years and counting.
The Greater Fifth Ward is one of the oldest wards in Houston, originally Fifth Ward had many ethnic groups during the early 1800s mainly to the Irish and Jews. By the mid-1880s after the Abolitionist Movement many Blacks migrated there as the Jews and Irish residents moved out. After settling down, Blacks united in the community and made a living for themselves either working at the ship channel or owning countless bars, restaurants, and businesses.
Kashmere Gardens is historically an African American neighborhood right down the street from Fifth Ward, just five minutes away. Both communities are married not only due to how close they are from each other but they’re adjacent to the cancer-causing Union Pacific rail yard. Kashmere Gardens was also the first community to have a local hospital placed on Lockwood Drive, which serves both historic communities.
Do people of the Black community really think government agencies will come to their aid? Or is it a tactic to depopulate and push Black people out in return to gentrify the historical Black communities they’ve always called home?
But what is “Cancer Cluster” and how did it even get in Fifth Ward/Kashmere Gardens in the first place? Well, the Union Pacific Railroad of Omaha, Nebraska became the owner of the rail yard in 1996 right in the heart of the greater Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens on Liberty Road. Upon buying out the rail yard from Southern Pacific, researchers traced back years and years to find a chemical called Creosote. Creosote is a preservative considered to be a causing cancer substance, historically used as a treatment for components of seagoing and outdoor wood structure to prevent rot on bridgework and railway sleepers. The chemical was used for more than 80 years on the railroad yard upon (UPR) acquisition. Creosote treatments ceased in the 1980s and chemicals sank deep into the ground that has widely spread beneath 110 homes in the surrounding area and contaminated water flow right under the city of Houston public works nose which they still haven’t done anything about till this day.
“I’ve lived here all my life our roots are tied deep here, I watched my mom, dad, and sister all die from cancer, I believe with all my heart union-pacific had something to do with it,” said a long-time resident of the community.
And yet Union Pacific doesn’t want to take accountability for perpetuating the problem concerning health and safety of the historical Black community.
Ms. Latonya, a resident across the street from the railroad on Liberty Road went on to say, “I talk with my neighbors and people around the area and everyone I know either have some type of cancer or lost a family or friend to cancer from the hands of the railroad yard”.
Protest after protest, city halls meetings after city halls meetings, empty promises made one after another, when will this stop? Countless people that live in the community either died from the cancer cluster or watched a love one slip through the cracks repeatedly and generations after generations. The EPA found that other chemicals which makes up creosote such as arsenic is linked to lung cancer, but it doesn’t stop there! It was also found that the contaminated ground water caused skin cancer, prostate cancer, and bile duct cancer, which is a rare disease that forms in the liver slender tubes that carry the digestive fluid bile.
Did you know in 2014, Union Pacific offered people that lived in the area $1000 dollars, and to sign a non-disclosure to keep quiet, which enables them from filing any lawsuits against them in the future at that time?
So again, do the people of the Black community really think that any government agencies will come to their aid? Or is it a tactic to depopulate and push Black people out in return to gentrify the historical Black communities they’ve always called home?
Why should the people of the community trust the political leaders in power to make any changes after the promises that were made over the years? But when it was all said and done people in the community were left to only find multiple knives sticking them… killing them off physically and most importantly killing off any hope for their selves and their children’s future.
More unity is needed in the Black community, and we need more people involved to help organize, properly plan, and strategize ways to protect our communities. The problem they’re dealing with cannot remain water under the bridge any longer. Everyone in Houston needs to be aware about the issues people in the historic greater Fifth Ward/Kashmere Gardens community have been going through.