Important "Toxic Town" Trial Starts Up Today

The polluters who turned Somerville into the Toxic Town described in an award-winning Houston Press story may have had a good result in the first lawsuit they faced, but a second one -- beginning a week from today in the town of Caldwell in Burleson County -- may be different.

Somerville residents have sued the BNSF Railway, which ran a tie-producing plant in town. Cancer rates were far higher there, and BNSF failed to install standard pollution controls.

In January 2008, the first of the trials took place in Fort Worth. A jury found that BNSF had caused pollution, but they could not tie the pollution to the plaintiff's cancer -- she had been a lifelong smoker and had carried an unusual medical condition.

The trial starting today involves a non-smoking former employee of the BNSF plant, one who was a key character in Todd Spivak's "Toxic Town" story.

"The Dennis Davis trial will be more simple to prove in a lot of ways," Robert Tharp, a spokesman for the Somerville plaintiffs, tells Hair Balls. "Davis actually worked for several decades at the BNSF railroad tie treatment plant (the plaintiff in the first trial was married to a BNSF employee and lived nearby) and is a non-smoker. Additionally, he has none of the
recognized risk factors linked to stomach cancer. Davis's cancer has spread throughout his body and his condition is now very grave."

Also, Tharp says, the plaintiffs' law firm has funded a new study that compares Somerville's cancer rates to a similar-sized town that is lucky enough not to have a major polluter in it.

"This third-party study (albeit paid for by the plaintiffs) has found that the rates of cancer in Somerville are 10 times greater than for a similar small Texas town used as a control group," he says.

The trial is expected to last a month or more; we'll keep you posted on events.

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