Family sues Union Pacific, City of Houston over teen’s cancer death

By Briana Zamora-Nipper, Community Associate Producer for

A Houston woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad and the City of Houston over her nephew’s death from leukemia.

After battling leukemia for five years, her nephew Corinthian Giles died in July 2021 at age 13.

On Wednesday, Latonya Payne, the teen’s legal guardian, joined thousands of Houston residents in suing Union Pacific Railroad Company for contaminating their properties and groundwater.

The lawsuit, filed in Harris County District Court, alleges that the company knowingly contaminated the area with creosote and other toxic chemicals, attempted to conceal the scope and danger caused by the contamination, and failed to clean it up. The suit also claims that the City of Houston failed to appropriately warn the community of the risks or prevent and mitigate the contamination, which the suit alleges caused cancer.

Payne’s nephew was raised in a home two blocks from Union Pacific’s Englewood Railyard and former creosote treatment plant in Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward area, where, in late 2019, Texas health officials confirmed a cancer cluster.

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a cancer cluster is a “greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.”

A study by the Texas Department of State Health Services found that there were higher rates of lung, esophagus and throat cancer among adults in the area surrounding the railyard, which for decades has been contaminated with creosote, a mixture of hundreds of chemicals used as a preservative. The International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that the chemical is likely carcinogenic to humans.

In January 2021, six months before Giles’ death, the state health department reported additional significant findings — that childhood lymphoblastic leukemia in Houston’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens communities occurred at a rate five times higher than the national average.

Union Pacific operated a creosote wood treatment plant at the railyard until 1985. For decades, creosote was dumped at the site.

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