Creosote is a large mixture of chemicals that is used as a wood preservative in the United States, as well as for roofing, aluminum smelting, and road paving. Houston’s Fifth Ward has been pinpointed as a Cancer Cluster: an area that has a “greater than expected number of cancer cases,” largely due to the community’s exposure to creosote from the Union Pacific railroad site in Houston’s 5th Ward.

Creosote is released into soil and water systems and may take many years to break down. Due to groundwater contamination, creosote can make its way into drinking water systems, putting entire communities at risk for exposure. Creosote may cause irritation of the respiratory tract and can lead to stomach pains and burning of the throat and mouth. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the EPA have determined that creosote is likely a carcinogen, meaning that exposure to the chemical can likely cause cancer.

CHEJ has been working with the Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) to help the communities of Houston’s 5th Ward further understand the extent of the contamination and what different health investigations can do to propel THEA’s goals of raising awareness of their exposure to creosote. CHEJ and THEA have been hosting informational Zoom town halls about Houston’s 5th Ward Cancer Cluster. You can learn more about Houston’s Cancer Cluster by watching Fault Lines’ mini documentary or by visiting THEA’s Facebook page to learn and listen in on their past and future town hall meetings or learn how to get involved.

To learn more about creosote, click here.