At a glance
- Environmental experts have warned that without stricter regulation from Congress and increased transparency requirements, many towns and cities will be left unprepared.
- Railroad companies are reluctant to disclose information about hazardous cargo and routes.
- Local governments can request information from the railroads annually.
- Environmental experts are calling on Congress to pass legislation that would require railroads to provide more information about hazardous materials passing through residential areas.
- This would help ensure that local governments are better prepared to respond to any potential disasters.
A New Report
A new report from environmental experts has warned that without stricter regulation from Congress and increased transparency requirements for dangerous materials passing through residential areas, many more towns and cities will be left in the dark and unprepared.
Railroads and Regulations
Every day, trains laden with potentially harmful materials rumble through American towns and cities, often without residents being aware of the danger.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which regulates the industry, does not provide lists of the rail lines that hazardous materials travel.
Railroad companies are loathe to disclose much information about hazardous cargo and routes the material travels, citing security concerns.
Local governments can request information from the railroads annually for the purpose of planning their emergency response.
However, this was not enough to prevent the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, where Governor Mike DeWine was not notified that vinyl chloride and other hazardous materials would be winding its way along the tracks.
Freight trains are used to carry materials both innocuous and hazardous over long distances.
An expansive network of Class-1 railroads, which are operated by the major railroad freight companies and one passenger company, wind their way through America’s coasts, heartlands and metropolises each day.
According to the FRA, about a thousand train derailments occur in the US each year.
In 2005, a Norfolk Southern train carrying pressurized chlorine gas crashed in Graniteville, South Carolina, sending a toxic plume over the town.
In 2012, a train carrying vinyl chloride derailed in Paulsboro, New Jersey.
In 2015, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the state of West Virginia.
In 2013, a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Calls for Action
Local emergency responders were not prepared to deal with a chemical spill or explosion due to a lack of knowledge about the substances passing through their communities.
In Pennsylvania alone, 3.9 million people lived within the evacuation zone of trains carrying crude oil.
Any changes to railroad regulations would require the federal government to act.
Environmental experts are calling on Congress to pass legislation that would require railroads to provide more information about hazardous materials passing through residential areas, as well as increase transparency and accountability.
This would help ensure that local governments are better prepared to respond to any potential disasters.
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