Black Houston Residents Urge Union Pacific to Clean Up its Act

by | Mar 30, 2022 | Injuries

A group of people from a poor section of Houston claim that toxic creosote in a nearby Union Pacific railyard is causing cancer in the Fifth Ward at an alarming rate.

Researchers have identified a cancer cluster, or an unusually high level of this illness, near the railyard. Activists say that’s because creosote has leaked into the groundwater. Indeed, officials have warned area residents to drink city water instead of well water. The Environmental Protection Agency has promised to follow-up on the problem. In response, Union Pacific said it buried the creosote under concrete and, since it bought the site in 1997, it has complied with all legal site cleanup requirements. 

Creosote has been linked to scrotum and skin cancer, especially when people exposed to this substance spend lots of time in the sun.

Railroads and Mesothelioma

Creosote is very common at railyards. For many years, this substance was widely used to treat and preserve wood railroad ties. Once its cancer-causing properties became public, companies stopped using it. Asbestos has a similar story. 

This abundant fibrous mineral was highly prized for its low cost and fireproofing qualities. Pretty much every structure built before 1980 contains asbestos. When the Twin Towers went down in New York City, they may have contained two million pounds of asbestos. 

Railroad structures don’t contain that much asbestos. But they contain more than enough to cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of lung/heart cancer. One microscopic asbestos fiber could cause a tumor to form in the delicate meso lining between the lungs and heart.

These tumors are largely impervious to most treatments. Radiation therapy is a good illustration. Frequently, doctors bombard tumors with radiation to shrink them and make them easier to remove. But that option is unavailable in many mesothelioma cases. The radiation would damage the heart and lungs.

Complicating matters even further, mesothelioma has a very long incubation period. Many of these victims don’t develop symptoms for fifty years or more. When symptoms appear. They are rather generic, like shortness of breath and fatigue. These things are not cancer red flags.

As a result, while the overall cancer survival rate has improved since the 1990s, the mesothelioma survival rate is extremely low. Frequently, doctors cannot do much except try to make these victims comfortable.

Lung Cancer

Creosote is part of the railroad landscape, and so is silica dust. Railroad maintenance workers are especially at risk for silica-based lung cancer. These workers usually operate large machines which disturb the ballast, or the pebbles that usually cover the ground around railroad ties. 

As a result, clouds of silica dust form. This dust has been connected with various kinds of lung cancer. Since these particles are toxic, the body cannot process them. So, they remain in the lungs after victims inhale them, and over time, the particles cause tumors to form.

Lung cancer is usually more treatable than mesothelioma. Unfortunately for victims, the lung cancer incubation period is almost as long as the mesothelioma incubation period. Doctors must then use more invasive and aggressive tactics to fight lung cancer.

These aggressive and invasive tactics are also extremely costly. A Lexington personal injury attorney can usually obtain compensation for these expenses, if owner negligence contributed to the victim’s illness or injury. For example, railroads might only provide cheap face masks to railroad maintenance workers. That’s usually not enough protection against silica dust.

Blood Cancer

Pretty much all railroad ties contain creosote, and pretty much all diesel engines produce benzene fumes. This chemical gives diesel fumes their distinctive smell. On a related note, if you sniff fresh-cut grass, you are not smelling the grass. You are smelling benzene fumes. Benzene fumes can cause various illnesses, including anemia and leukemia (blood cancer).

Leukemia is a type of blood or bone marrow cancer caused by an increase of white blood cells. There are many different kinds of leukemia, but the major division is between acute and chronic. Acute leukemia occurs when there is a quick increase of immature white blood cells, while chronic leukemia takes place after an excessive buildup of white blood cells. Chronic leukemia can take months or years to fully develop and acute leukemia requires immediate treatment. Some symptoms are anemia, abnormal headaches, and frequent infections.

As a railroad worker, even though you work in a particularly dangerous occupation, there are precautions that should be taken that can prevent injury and illness. Your employer is responsible to make sure that you as a railroad worker are not exposed to avoidable health and safety risks. If you were not warned about the health risks or were not given adequate safety materials, these are signs of employer negligence.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.