Harris County investigates cancer cluster in Fifth Ward

Harris County will now begin investigating a rail yard site in the Fifth Ward after a cancer cluster was discovered there earlier this year. The measure was approved in Commissioners Court this week.

The Harris County Attorney's office will now hire an expert to investigate which pollutants are to blame for the uptick. The property was bought over by Union Pacific, which means the railroad company will be the ones liable if prosecutors decide to take legal action.

Leisa Glenn, 61, has lived in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood for nearly 40 years. She tells FOX 26 she’s said goodbye to too many of her neighbors who live along Lavender Street.

“It was kinda strange. How’s the whole neighborhood dying from cancer? Cancer, special needs, people having heart attacks, always sick. It kinda makes you question that,” Glenn said.

When her mother, Lucille, passed away after battling both ovarian and breast cancer, Glenn knew she had to take action.

She began complaining to elected officials to investigate the root cause.

“I walked the neighborhood and passed out papers. I went to a whole lot of people’s houses who were too sick to come to the door. ‘Baby, I had cancer. Baby, I had heart failure.’ It was just so many people in this one little community that is so sick. It's unbelievable,” Glenn said.

“Well the contamination was right there across the street,” Glenn continued.

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Across the street is Englewood Railyard, where a former creosote facility was housed for decades.

The chemical was used to treat wood and likely causes cancer according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, a study conducted by the Texas State Dept of Health Services this year found higher than normal instances of lung and throat cancer near the area.

Harris County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said his office been receiving complaints from residents in the Fifth Ward for years.

“I also raised the issue at Commissioners Court. If this has happened at this site, maybe it’s happened at other places in unincorporated Harris County too,” Ellis said.

The County Attorney's office will now begin filing open records requests to get data from the state.

“We're also going to ask that the state health department pursue an epidemiological study which will hopefully help identify what pollutants were the cause of the increase in cancer,” said Sarah Utley, managing attorney of the Environmental Protection Group of the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

Glenn said she’s suffered with a chronic cough for years and doctors have not been able to tell her why. She adds that she moved to the other side of town with her husband recently because she doesn't want to risk living there anymore.