Letter to the editor: Health effects of railroads on low-income mothers, babies


It is very important that I mention that on Dec. 9, 2020, I, on behalf of my 501(c)(3), nonprofit, charitable organization, The Family Unit Inc., traveled to the South Sumter area of the City of Sumter, with intentions of investigating communities of impoverished families who may have had family members who were either pregnant and diagnosed with preeclampsia or had pregnancy-related illnesses. I ventured into South Sumter with the knowledge that of the 700 women who die every year in America due to pregnancy-related causes, the overwhelming majority of them are African-American. "Maternal Morbidity and Mortality and Pregnancy-Related Issues in Low-Income Women Who Live Near Railroads in Sumter, South Carolina" was and still is my investigative concentration and focus.

Railroads in America are located predominantly in low-income areas, such as South Sumter, South Carolina. Thus, my aim was to go to where the railroad tracks are found, and there I would find the target population of citizens that I sought for my investigative study. While crossing the railroad tracks leading into South Sumter, I noticed scattered white containers, some of which had been partially crushed. There, beside the mysterious cluster of white containers, was, and still is, a heap of twisted, rusted metal underneath an old, discarded railroad crossing sign. In addition to this unsightly assortment of things, there were two huge corroding pipes lying randomly on the ground containing trash, an old tire, boards and tree limbs. I must add here that these articles that were present on the CSX Railway on Dec. 9, 2020, are still present today, a month later ... unchanged and just as unsightly as ever!

No employee of the CSX Railway was available for me to ask about the content of the freight trains and alert them of the unsightly, worrisome pile of materials that I had found on their grounds. Upon leaving the railroad yard, I then ventured into the community to interview some of the residents of the community that lives mere yards away from the railroad tracks and trains that stood motionless on the tracks. After knocking on several doors in a random fashion, I found the residents to be friendly and willing to talk about their families and about the railroad that they lived by. One hundred percent of the residents who live within a "stone's throw" from the train tracks admitted that they had absolutely no idea of what the contents of the trains were and confirmed without hesitation that the trains that were on the track that day had been in the same spot for several days. They further continued that freight trains in their community stay in place on the tracks all of the time and do not move for days in a stretch.

The average length of time that the residents had lived in this community was at least ten years.

Much to my surprise, a man answered the door at one home who told me that he was a Facebook friend of mine and that his wife, who was unable to come to the door at that moment, had preeclampsia with their first pregnancy and almost died as a result. His wife called me later that night and reminisced about the difficult, postpartum course she endured, which included extensive occupational as well as physical therapy. Years later, she has developed hypertension and other medical problems. A subsequent pregnancy was naturally treated as a high-risk pregnancy and was uneventful with no unusual sequela.

My curiosity heightened and investigative studies on Maternal Morbidity and Mortality intensified to the point wherein I began visiting the South Sumter community every day, and have spent numerous hours, making notes and documenting information gleaned from other residents of the area and from information gathered from labels and signs and data from the outside of the freight trains themselves. I captured photos and videos of freight trains that contain hazardous, flammable materials that had been on the tracks for more than one day. Several freight cars contained hazardous chemicals, namely, Sodium Chlorate, a chemical that was banned in the United Kingdom since 2009, because of its high toxicity on human beings and plant life.

My observation showed that multiple freight cars containing Sodium Chlorate were still on the railroad tracks more than 24 hours later. Adjacent tracks contained freight cars with this same chemical. Other freight cars contained chemicals of a different description, and like Sodium Chlorate, had labeling which said "Flammable."

If ingested, Sodium Chlorate can cause methemoglobinemia, a very serious blood disorder that can lead to disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), excessive bleeding, and in many cases complete body organ failure and death.

I have been reading extensively on the historical placement of railroads within communities of impoverished people, serving as a form of systematic racism and segregation...separating communities of low-income people from those of high income and societal status. Contributions that African Americans had made towards the construction of the railway system in America. The literature on railroads also highlights the facts about the host of medical problems that a significant number of people experience who live near railroad tracks, such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, heart disease, cancer, to name a few. The Department of Health and Environmental Control, along with the Center for Disease Control's literature documents these disturbing findings.

I remain confident that the contents of the CSX Freight trains should be known to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and to all First Responders and the City of Sumter as well as Sumter County governmental officials in regards to Hazardous Waste that these trains transport and remain in the affected communities for lengthy periods of time. No person affiliated with the aforementioned governmental entities had any knowledge whatsoever of the identity or nature of any of the contents of the CSX Freight trains when I inquired about this matter a month ago, even to this very day. So far, the information about some of the hazardous materials that these freight trains carry has come from data that I have discovered in my investigations so far.

Prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances transported by any mode of transportation has proven to be significant in the creation and propagation of health disparities among the rich and the poor in America and worldwide. Whether living near to or nearby railroads have effects upon the unborn child and his or her mother has yet to be determined. Studies on this topic are very limited and complicated.

The journey that I have embarked upon, on behalf of The Family Unit, Inc., regarding "Maternal Morbidity and Mortality, and Pregnancy-Related Issues in Low-Income Women Who Live Near Railroads in Sumter, South Carolina," I feel is on the right track but is still in its "embryonic stages of development."

There is much more to come.


The Family Unit Inc., a 501 (c)(3), nonprofit, charitable organization