Environment & Climate Reporting

‘They’re still dying’: Neighbors contend with rail yard after decades of contamination

A railroad yard asked the state to limit its environmental responsibility to clean up more than 30 years of toxic waste. The community it neighbored didn’t know anything was wrong. In this historically black neighborhood, it seems everyone knows someone who died of cancer or had the disease themselves. Now, they’re coming to terms with how a plume of creosote contamination lurking below may have affected their lives — and could still be polluting their homes today. 

Impact: After the story published in April 2019, state regulators asked Union Pacific to test the air in homes affected by contamination. Then, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee held a town hall to push for a health study on the contamination. Four months later, the Texas Department of State Health Services identified a cancer cluster in the area surrounding the rail yard in August. But, the public didn’t find out about the cancer cluster study until months later, due to a failure by state agencies to notify city officials. Residents, increasingly worried about the contamination and cancer in their community, turned out by the hundreds for a town hall featuring Erin Brockovich in January. In March, Houston attorneys filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific on behalf of hundreds of residents in the area.

One Houston neighborhood is putting Texas’ air quality rules to the test

Acres Homes residents are trying to stop a company from building a concrete batch plant in the heart of their neighborhood. But despite impressive community organization, Texas’ environmental agency keeps moving the air emissions permit request forward. Residents are blocked at every turn by a web of complex rules to fight back. In Houston, where no zoning means anyone can build anywhere, the community is wondering: Is the state’s public participation process just for show? 

Impact: After the story published in August 2019, the state’s environmental agency referred the dispute to a state hearing. In the meantime, public opposition to the plant continued to mount. Then, in January — one day before a judge was set to hear the case — the company withdrew its application for the permit to build the plant. The next day, the company agreed to move out of the neighborhood for good.

A decade after Deepwater Horizon, coastal communities’ way of life nears extinction

Usually after a disaster hits Louisiana’s coastal towns, storms pass, communities get rebuilt, paychecks resume, and fish come back. But that’s not what happened after the disaster that began on April 20, 2010.

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