Lead Plaintiff In "Toxic Town" Lawsuit Dies

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Photo by Daniel Kramer
A little over two years ago, the Houston Press published an award-winning story looking into Somerville, a small town 90 miles northwest of here that contained a plant that made railroad ties.

"Toxic Town" described the high rate of cancer in the town and focused on the lead plaintiff, Dennis Davis, who was fighting pancreatic cancer.

Davis, 57, died from that cancer in Somerville this past Sunday, a cousin tells Hair Balls. Charlette Williams says there was no obituary published, and events were low-key, with a family-only funeral yesterday.

Davis, like other Somerville residents, blamed the plant for their sickness. Now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the plant was once the nation's largest producer of rail ties, using a process that involved arsenic, dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Davis was the lead plaintiff in an initial suit against the railroad, but lost the case.

The Bryan-College Station Eagle covered the lawsuit closely; you can see their stories here.

Here's how they describe the day Davis took the stand to testify about how he worked cleaning toxic chemicals out of the plant's "hot wells" with only a bandanna over his mouth for protection:

"Do you think you had a right to know the chemicals you were working with cause cancer?" Davis' attorney, Jared Woodfill, asked him during his testimony in his lawsuit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Davis took several seconds to answer, visibly struggling to control his emotions and breathing laboriously. "We should have all been warned," he said.

Testifying Thursday was a struggle for Davis, who wore a surgical mask and appeared short of breath. Davis finished his fourth 21-day cycle of chemotherapy a few days ago. He was diagnosed with cancer in November 2006 after doctors found a tumor in his intestines. After briefly going into remission, the cancer has since spread to his lungs, liver, appendix and skin.

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