Residents Of Houston’s Fifth Ward Want Answers About Abnormally High Cancer Rates

Texas state health officials recently confirmed elevated cancer rates, and some suspect they’re the consequence of toxic groundwater that’s affected the area for years.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 30, 2020 2:03 pm,

Last week, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich came to Houston’s Fifth Ward to raise awareness and demand solutions to the cancer cluster killing people in that neighborhood.

Their visit came a few months after the Texas Department of State Health Services officially reported elevated cancer rates in the Fifth Ward – one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. And a Houston Health Department officer called the situation “the worst example of environmental justice I have ever seen.” The problem isn’t new, though, and some suspect the area has been contaminated for years because of creosote that seeped into the groundwater from the nearby rail yard.

Davis Land is senior news producer at Houston Public Media. He says despite the history of health problems in the area, the state is  only just started to address them.

Lee and Brockovich say someone needs to be held accountable for the health crisis, but Land says doing so is complicated. Right now, several entities are looking for causes and solutions, including agencies from the city, the county and the state, as well as federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. Lee is petitioning to designate the area as a Superfund site to clean up any toxic material that could be causing the cancers.

Meanwhile, some residents want to be moved out to protect their health, while others don’t know what to do because they already have cancer. One resident, Leisa Glenn, had a particularly poignant take:

“How do all these people die of cancer?” she asked at the meeting with Lee and Brockovich last week. “What are they planing on doing, waiting till the rest of us die?”

Land says some community groups are also raising awareness about the problem, but no lawsuits have been filed.


Written by Caroline Covington.