The anguish is deep for LaTonya Payne, whose 13-year-old son died from leukemia in July.
“He just wanted to make sure that the doctors did everything they could to try to save his life. Until the very last breath, he fought and he fought,” she said.
Payne lives in Houston’s fifth ward, a low-income and predominantly Black community. The cases of childhood leukemia there are five times higher than the state average, according to the Texas Department of Health. The neighborhood is near a Union Pacific rail yard that is contaminated with the chemical creosote, a likely human carcinogen.
There’s no confirmed link yet, but Payne is convinced the rail yard caused her son’s leukemia. Payne and more than 1,000 others have filed suits against the freight rail company for illnesses they say came from their properties and groundwater contaminated by creosote.
Union Pacific has said the chemical has been contained underground. In response to Payne’s lawsuit, the company said it will review and respond accordingly.
Houston resident Sandra Edwards says at least a dozen people have died of cancer on her street, including her father.
“We’ve been fighting this threat four, five years and nobody has come over,” Edwards said. “Everybody want to come see what’s going on, but nothing has been done.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan is the latest official to visit, touring the fifth ward on Friday.
“We have a sense of urgency in cleaning up this mess,” Regan told CBS News. “I don’t believe we’ve been aggressive enough in terms of state and federal reaction.”
The residents who live near the site agree with that, including Payne, who hopes something will be gained from Friday’s meeting as her heart aches for what’s lost.
“Everyday it’s hard, honestly,” Payne said. “We are all struggling with having to live without him.”