The Former Houston Wood
Preserving Works Site

News Release: Union Pacific Calls For Accuracy And Collaboration In Response To Dioxin Study

Union Pacific just received the results of the city of Houston’s dioxin study, after repeatedly asking for the data. The report shows the dioxin levels in the city’s samples are well below the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s clean-up standards for dioxins in residential areas.

Attributing widespread dioxin only to operations at the former Southern Pacific Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW) site is unreasonable and inaccurate. For more than a century, nearly 100 businesses operated in the highly industrialized area by the site. Now, the environmental remnants of the industrial prosperity that once flourished there are causing residents and regulators to raise concerns about pollutants on the ground, in the air and in the water. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dioxin-like compounds are found in soils everywhere due to a variety of sources. Jonathan Urban, PhD toxicologist with ToxStrategies, states that “Dioxins are primarily a byproduct of combustion and other industrial processes and it is not uncommon for them to be detected in urban and industrial areas. The important question is are they present at soil concentrations that might impact human health.”

Manufacturers, metal foundries, auto shops, electrical contractors, printing plants, laundromats and other businesses all operated in the area near the former Houston Wood Preserving Works site. In addition to dioxins, the chemical remnants these types of businesses may have left behind include arsenic, vinyl chloride, lead, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and dozens more.

Ensuring Site Safety for the Surrounding Community

Until the 1980s, Southern Pacific spent decades using creosote to treat wood for rail ties at its HWPW facility, affecting soils and groundwater. Union Pacific took responsibility for remediation activities when it merged with Southern Pacific – 13 years after the facility closed in 1984.

Over the past 25 years, Union Pacific conducted all cleanup activities under the oversight of state regulators. This includes consolidating creosote-impacted soil onsite and constructing an engineered barrier cap consisting of clay and topsoil, concrete, asphalt and other materials. Additionally, Union Pacific removed a significant amount of creosote, both on and offsite. The railroad has met with city and county officials and local community advocates to discuss even more aggressive cleanup measures, containment and remediation activities.

Union Pacific’s Commitment to Houston

With 1,500 employees in Harris County, Houston is an essential hub for Union Pacific. In the last five years, the company has donated more than $2 million to over 100 nonprofits in the area. From hiring programs to local investments, Union Pacific is committed to leading with compassion, collaboration and, most importantly, action.

Union Pacific aims to work with the city of Houston, Harris County and the Bayou City Initiative to collect data and to formulate a sound, science-based plan for moving forward.

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