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Union Pacific Soil Sampling in Houston’s Fifth Ward: A Critical Review

June 11, 2024 (Houston Style Magazine) — Union Pacific, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the City of Houston and the Harris County, has embarked on an extensive soil sampling initiative in Houston’s Fifth Ward. While this extensive testing is intended to demonstrate Union Pacific’s commitment to community health and environmental responsibility, critical scrutiny raises questions about the true impact and transparency of these efforts. Scope of soil sampling: a necessary measure or too little, too late? vapor testing series, this soil sampling aims to identify contaminants such as dioxins, furans, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) at the former Houston Wood Preserving Works site (HWPW) and its surrounding neighborhood. While identifying soil contamination is crucial, questions must be asked about the appropriateness and comprehensiveness of these measures, given Fifth Ward residents’ long-standing concerns about environmental risks. Methodology and monitoring: true transparency or procedural formality? Under EPA supervision, teams will collect soil samples using hand augers, shovels and scoops from depths of up to 12 inches below ground. Sampling will take place at the HWPW site and in five designated areas, including residential properties, schools, parks and recreation centers. Although this method appears thorough, the effectiveness of using hand tools for deep contamination and the process of selecting sampling sites deserves careful consideration. Is this approach really sufficient to address long-term community exposure to contaminants? Timeline and Collaborative Effort: A Coordinated Approach or Just for Show? Check sampling began in February 2024, with neighborhood soil sampling and on-site surveys beginning in May and continuing. until late summer or early fall. A second round of vapor tests is planned this summer to assess the impact of heat on vapor migration. Despite these efforts, community trust is based on transparent communication and demonstrable results, not just following procedures. Residents have long demanded more immediate and effective action. Community Engagement: Real Engagement or Public Relations? Toni Harrison, spokesperson and community liaison for Union Pacific, highlighted the company’s commitment to transparency and community engagement throughout the testing process. “The safety and well-being of Fifth Ward residents is of the utmost importance to Union Pacific,” Harrison said. However, skepticism remains over whether these statements will translate into meaningful action. Are residents fully informed and involved, or is this simply a public relations exercise? Casey Luckett Snyder, EPA Superfund project manager, highlighted concerns raised by various stakeholders: “We’ve heard from elected officials. Public health agencies and many individuals have shared with us their concerns about exposure to contaminants in this neighborhood and communities, and what these contaminants may mean for public health. She also emphasized the scale of the effort: “This, I’ll be honest with you, is going to be a colossal effort,” Snyder said. “This is going to be a very big investigation. » Current environmental initiatives: proactive efforts or reactive measures? This soil testing initiative builds on Union Pacific’s collaboration with regulatory agencies and local stakeholders. The company’s approach includes groundwater monitoring, vapor intrusion testing, and ongoing containment and remediation efforts. Yet questions persist about whether these measures are proactive or simply reactive responses to community pressure and regulatory oversight. For more information about the HWPW site and Union Pacific’s environmental initiatives, please visit houstonwoodpreservingworks.com. Fifth Ward – Soil Sample Spokesperson: • Casey Luckett Snyder, EPA Superfund Project Manager: Oversees the cleanup of contaminated sites listed on the National Priorities List (NPL), in coordination with federal, state and local agencies, as well as with communities and stakeholders, to manage assessment, remediation and monitoring. hazardous waste sites. • Kevin Petervuers, Senior Director of Environmental Remediation for Union Pacific Railroad: Manages the identification, investigation and remediation of environmental contamination related to Union Pacific operations, including ensuring compliance with environmental laws and regulations and working with regulatory agencies and communities to address environmental concerns.