Something in the Air in Somerville?, Part 2

By: Kristen Ross Email
By: Kristen Ross Email

They're the ties that bind the community of Somerville together, but they're also ripping it apart. Once the livelihood of this town, it may also be killing it.

"I worked for the railroad. My daddy died at 58 at the railroad. I had a granddaughter born with her intestines not hooked up," Dennis Davis, who is suing Burlington Northern Santa Fe, said. "My uncle died at the railroad, and the railroad settled with him in mediations. So if they're not guilty about something, what do we got to hide here?"

"My friends that have worked there are all in good shape, as well as everybody else is," Somerville resident Alfred Kelm counters. "I don't think the cancer rate in Somerville is any different than anywhere else."

Some say it's a toxic town, that the railroad ties are tainted, filled with poisons that are slowly killing off a community.

"If you go to my neighborhood, they have 30 homes up there. There's colon cancers, stomach cancers, birth defects -- you name it, it's up there," Davis said.

"I worry about my kids playing in the dirt, the air, everything," Crystal Fulton said.

While some say the plant could mean the end of the community, others claim without it, there wouldn't have been a beginning.

"The plants been here 100 years, and so many people don't realize that a long time ago, that's how people survived around here," resident JoAnn Buck said.

The controversy has derailed the idealist view of the railroad somewhat. The very tracks once known for bringing jobs and prosperity are now are bringing something else to town.

"Lawyers coming around here. I don't know, they may be crooks as far as I know, having meetings and different things," James Henry, who lives in eye's view of the plant, said.

"In my mind, some lawyer is trying to make him some money," Somerville resident Willie Discher adds.

However, don't tell that to Dennis Davis.

"I now have pancreatic cancer, and I have never smoked in my life," Davis said.

He's now on a mission to hold the tie-plant responsible.

"We're going to bring notice to this community that something has happened here, and the only way to get our quality of life back and ensure that our kids and grandkids have a way of life here is to get to the bottom of this," he said.

"I don't doubt that the people in Somerville have health problems. As we grow older we all have health problems," Christine McCorkle counters.

McCorkle is a Somerville native. Both her dad, and brother spent years working at the plant, so when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she, too, did some investigating.

"We had her tested for carcinogens at the request of a neighbor because he knew some of this was coming down," McCorkle said. "She tested totally negative."

Not only does she say her mother tested negative, but her home was toxin-free as well. McCorkle, like many others in the community, is ready for the rumors to stop, and for the town to get back to normal.

"It's ruining our name. It's making us a laughing stock, a toxic city," McCorkle said.

A long road lies ahead for this embattled railroad town.

"We've been contaminated and poisoned here and people need to hear what's going on," Davis said.

Perhaps then after the limelight dims, and the lawyers depart, the town of Somerville can get back on track.


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