On June 24th our founder, Jackie Young-Medcalf was joined by environmentalist Lois Gibbs and Stephen Lester, alongside community activist, Charlie Powell for a virtual town hall to inform the public and the press of their assessment of the 5th Ward Cancer Cluster, you can download our fact sheet here.
Environmental contamination in Houston’s Fifth Ward dates back over 100 years and has left scientists and toxicologists in 2020 combing through data in an attempt to understand what those living amongst the contamination continue to endure. For most who grew up in Fifth Ward, they were unaware of the harmful toxins seeping across and into the land they called home. We may never have a clear picture of what happened in the past, but community members have a very clear understanding of the health problems suffered in their community.
Understanding the past and present health of a community is an arduous task filled with limitations and when done by a government agency, rarely seeks to find the underlying cause for illness.
At THEA, we have worked with both government and academia to look into disease across the GREATER HOUSTON REGION and more specifically, cancer cluster investigations. As an organization with experience in these areas, understanding these types of investigations takes time and a series of checks and balances to ensure study design and parameters do not create gaping holes in the data or information being presented to communities.
When we began looking at the three cancer investigations Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) conducted over the past year, we were alarmed by the parameters left out of their research; for example, the state has published three reports for Greater Fifth Ward but not one of them looks at cancer rates among children. Additionally, the Texas Cancer Registry has available data for DSHS to pull from 1995-2017 but for an unknown reason, DSHS only looked at data from 2000-2017.
With numerous limitations at hand, health investigations must be as thorough as possible and must look at all available data sets in order to attempt and understand the past and present health of a community. As our need grew to better understand these investigations and the history of contamination in Greater Fifth Ward, we began working with experts with far more experience than us. The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) team began looking at the relationship between public health and environmental contaminants back in the 1970’s at the Nation’s first Superfund Site, Love Canal. Their team has assisted THEA in creating information for the public to help us all better understand the contamination and health investigations of Fifth Ward, you can download their summary and fact sheet below.