Trains and Hazmat Incidents
The Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train near East Palestine, Ohio, focused national attention on the safety of using freight trains for transportation of hazardous materials. To prevent an explosion, authorities conducted a controlled venting and burning of more than 115,000 gallons of vinyl chloride from five of the derailed cars. No injuries or fatalities resulted from the derailment. As of late February, EPA air monitoring had not detected any levels of concern and Ohio EPA had found no contamination of municipal water supplies, although an order requiring Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup indicated that some 3,500 fish had died as a result of spillage and run-off from firefighting efforts.
On Feb. 9, USA Today published an analysis of official records related to hazardous materials incidents in the United States. Information from the USA Today report appears below.
From “How Often Do Train Wrecks Spill Hazardous Chemicals into Neighborhoods? Here’s What Data Shows”: “[R]ailway incidents requiring nearby residents to flee possible explosions or potentially toxic fumes are rare, a USA Today analysis of federal government data found.
“Technological improvements to the railcars crisscrossing the nation’s tracks to ensure better crashworthiness and temperature regulation, retiring old cars, and a decline in crude oil transport since their peak in 2015 have made railcars less likely to leak or spill hazardous materials. [. . .]
“Yet when wrecks do occur, they may serve as difficult reality checks for the many Americans who live near railroad tracks moving massive amounts of freight, including potentially toxic chemicals, each year.”
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EPA: “East Palestine, Ohio Train Derailment Emergency Response.”
EPA: “In the Matter Of: East Palestine Train Derailment Site, East Palestine, Columbiana County, Ohio; Norfolk Southern Railway Company, Respondent” (PDF, February 2023).
EPA: “Statement from Regional Administrator Debra Shore on the East Palestine Train Derailment” (February 2023).
USA Today: “How Often Do Train Wrecks Spill Hazardous Chemicals into Neighborhoods? Here’s What Data Shows” (February 2023).