Union Pacific Begins Additional Vapor Testing in Houston’s Fifth Ward

Vapor testing is an integral component of Union Pacific’s ongoing commitment to community safety

Style Magazine Newswire | 11/9/2023, 11:33 a.m.
Union Pacific today began testing the groundwater near the former Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site for vapors to determine …

Union Pacific today began testing the groundwater near the former Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site for vapors to determine whether chemicals once used to treat wood railroad ties are evaporating and impacting the air in nearby homes and businesses.

The railroad is taking this proactive step to recheck previous testing which indicated vapor from the former site was not present. The testing is more robust than past tests and complements planned soil sampling in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ongoing groundwater testing.

"Air quality testing is another important step in our comprehensive approach to address community concerns and evaluate potential environmental impacts in the soil, water and air," said Union Pacific spokesperson and community liaison Toni Harrison. “Union Pacific is working diligently to provide thorough and effective testing. It pledges an unwavering commitment to transparency and action, and we will keep the community well-informed and actively engaged throughout next steps.”

Chemicals from underground sources can sometimes transform into gases, or vapors, that travel through the ground and into the air in nearby buildings, potentially posing health risks. Although testing in 2020 found this was not occurring in the area, Union Pacific remains focused on prioritizing community safety and well-being by rechecking those results with more robust testing and maintaining thorough, comprehensive work at every step.

The EPA-approved work plan calls for collecting samples from the soil gas, outdoor air, shallow groundwater, storm drains and sanitary sewers. The sampling will mostly occur in the public right of way.

The vapor testing is in addition to Union Pacific’s ongoing collaboration with the EPA to finalize plans for soil testing at homes, parks and schools. Railroad representatives began door-to-door outreach in Fifth Ward in early September to obtain access agreements from property owners selected by the EPA for soil testing to begin 2024.

Union Pacific will cover all testing costs and will complete the work under the guidance and oversight of the EPA. Test results will be validated by EPA-approved laboratories and then made available to the community.

While actively partnering with the EPA, Union Pacific maintains its ongoing collaboration with the City of Houston, Harris County, and Bayou City Initiative. All stakeholders have reviewed the work plan and had the opportunity to provide input.

Since inheriting the closed HWPW site in a 1997 merger, Union Pacific has made measurable progress with remediation and cleanup. This includes installing more than 120 groundwater monitoring wells at the site, establishing an asphalt-and-concrete barrier to control exposure to creosote beneath the surface, and removing the creosote from underground. More information about the site, its history, and ongoing work to protect the community is available at houstonwoodpreservingworks.com.