Something in the Air in Somerville? Part 1

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It's a place where you are more likely to get stopped by train than a cop.

Nestled just about 30 miles outside of College Station, Somerville, a city founded by the railroad, is regarded by many for its laid back country charm.

"It's a nice little hometown, I think it's a good place to live," Somerville Resident Christine McCorkel said.

Some say the heart of Somerville rests in the railroad tracks. The ties between the residents and the railroad goes back more than 100 years, but some say it's those ties that are causing them cancer.

"People are dying young of stomach cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer," Linda Faust, who sued BNSF said. "I mean it's just rampant here."

Faust never worked at the tie plant, but her husband does.
She believes hazardous chemicals released by the facility, that was once owned by BNSF, were brought into her house on her husband's work clothes.

"It came home on him everyday and I didn't think anything about it," Faust said. "I washed his work clothes. It was in my washer, my dryer, and then his lunchbox would be covered in it, his boots, his water keg."

Although a jury denied Faust's claim, the battle against the railroad has just begun, as more than 100 residents have pending lawsuits against the same company.

"It's not at an end yet, and people in this community are soon going to find out that what we're saying is going on in this community is really going on," Plaintiff Dennis Davis said. "They have gotten away with murder here, and this is a stinky little thing they have hidden over the years."

From the beginning, BNSF has maintained that there's no evidence that links chemicals released at the plant to cases of cancer.

"The tie plant is one of the most tested places you can imagine," BNSF Attorney Doug Poole said. "Everything in the world has been tested out there. Every given number of agencies that has checked it out says it's a safe place to work."

In video depositions provided to News Three by the prosecution, two former superintendents of the plant say they didn't connect creosote to cancer.

However, the cancer claims have plagued the city of Somerville, and even has some residents taking sides.

"My mother had diabetes, my dad had a bad heart," Somerville Resident Gayle Ryan said. "I have a bad heart and diabetes, am I suing my parents? No!"

"If you dig into the ground, that ground is full of creosote," fellow resident Pete Negrete said. "When it floods, there are ties everywhere, there's creosote on the posts, on the ground, everywhere."

The community has been subject to town hall meetings and outside researchers coming into the town to do testing.

"We've done sampling in the homes in the city of Somerville that show dioxin levels, PAH levels, and arsenic levels many times the EPA safe level," Faust's attorney Jared Woodfill said.

"It's not Love Canal where they tested hug amounts in the soil. Their way to get around it is their experts tests attic dust," BNSF attorney Doug Poole said. "Attic dust is always going to be dramatically higher and then they take that attic dust testing and compare it to soil standards, which is comparing apples and oranges."

While both sides believe passionately in their argument, that's where the similarities end.

This divisive issue has seeped into the homes and lives of Somerville residents much like the poisons under scrutiny.

The question now, can the town survive the controversy?

Watch Part 2 of "Something in the Air" Friday at 10 p.m. when News Three explores what's next for the town of Somerville.