Investigators have discovered carcinogenic chemicals at a Union Pacific Railroad site Houston, Texas. The Houston Wood Preserving Works site is a former tie treatment plant operated by Union Pacific from the 1920s until the early 1990s that used large amounts of a dangerous chemical known as creosote. Creosote is a wood preservative with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can cause cancer and other serious health effects. The Houston Wood Preserving Works site has been added to EPA’s National Priorities List, meaning it is one of the most hazardous sites in the country. Union Pacific must take steps to clean up and protect people from the harmful chemicals at this site.
Why are the chemicals found at this site so dangerous?
There are many carcinogenic chemicals used in railroad operations, but some of the most dangerous include creosote, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, and benzo(a)pyrene. These chemicals are dangerous because they can damage DNA and cause cells to divide uncontrollably, leading to cancer. Exposure to these chemicals can occur through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion. Even in small amounts, exposure to these chemicals can be harmful. Workers exposed to these chemicals without adequate protection are at risk of developing cancer.
How were these chemicals discovered at the Union Pacific tie plant in Houston?
The Houston Wood Preserving Works site was once used for railroad tie treatment for the Union Pacific Railroad. Railroad ties are pieces of lumber used to support railroad tracks. Laid perpendicular to the track, railroad ties keep tracks spaced properly, hold the rails upright, and help to transfer loads from the rails themselves to the track ballast and subgrade. The wood ties are treated with chemical preservatives before they are installed to prevent decay. The Houston Wood Preserving Works site is now contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as creosote and dioxins, which were used as preservatives for the ties. These chemicals have seeped into the ground and formed a “contamination plume.” The plume moves downward about 200 feet below the ground surface and has not yet reached a thick layer of rock or soil that would prevent it from progressing further below. If the plume continues to move downward, it could eventually reach groundwater aquifers and contaminate them. The plume would pose a severe risk to public health. Contamination plumes like this one are a major environmental problem. Steps must be taken to remediate the contamination and prevent further ecological damage.
What can you do if you have been exposed to dangerous chemicals at the Union Pacific tie plant in Houston?
If you have been exposed to dangerous chemicals at the Union Pacific tie plant in Houston, it is important to tell your doctor about your exposures and speak with an experienced railroad attorney. You may be entitled to compensation for any injuries or illnesses associated with exposures to these chemicals, and an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and options. If you are a railroad worker who has developed cancer as a result of creosote exposure, contact us today for a free consultation.