CZ/SK verze

Train Bombs Threaten the Health and Lives of America's Residents

Train Bombs Threaten the Health and Lives of America's Residents
photo: National Transportation Safety Board / Wikimedia commons / Public domain/Ohio train derailment, February 2023
12 / 02 / 2024

Rail transport is the most environmentally friendly and safest transportation mode, but unfortunately, it can't always prevent cars from derailing. It is even more dangerous if the carriages contain chemical and carcinogenic substances that infest the whole area. How can this be prevented, and what actions should be taken when it occurs? Read on for details.

A year ago, a catastrophic train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, in the United States of America (USA) released a dangerous cloud of hazardous chemicals. The freight train, carrying as many as 150 cars, was transporting toxic substances used to make plastics, such as carcinogenic vinyl chloride. After the crash, thick yellow smoke engulfed the city. Up to thousands of fish died in the water following the accident. At the time, authorities claimed that the tap water was safe. However, residents of the affected area reported that their homes still smelled like glue or varnish remover.

Coal And Steel Railroad Photography / Flickr

And what about train traffic today?

Americans still fear the "bomb trains" that continue to run through populated zones. Reports warn that mishaps may occur again in the future. These trains originate from OxyVinyl's plants in Texas and travel through towns to factories in New Jersey. Every day, more than 200 rail cars filled with chemicals are transported along the aforementioned route.

Experts warn that the mass transport of these substances without intervention is a looming environmental health disaster waiting for an opportunity to occur. Conservationists agree that the best way to prevent these substances from exploding again is to cease the production and use of plastics. The Environmental Protection Agency will monitor this problem for at least three years.

What causes vinyl chloride train derailments?

Vinyl chloride is classified as a human carcinogen, linked to liver, lung, breast cancer, or other fatal conditions when inhaled. Short-term exposure can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches. Some cancers may take up to 10 years to manifest.

Railroads, although the most environmentally friendly and much safer than trucks, cannot guarantee that derailments will not occur. However, railroad officials insist that railroads are safe and that hazardous materials will be transported responsibly. American Association of Railroads spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek stated that 99.9 percent of all hazardous materials transported by rail reach their destination without incident.

FracTracker Alliance / Flickr

Lower-income people of color, who already suffer from environmental injustice, most often live near railroads. Transportation unions believe it is crucial to focus on improving safety within the infrastructure and workforce, ensuring that transporting hazardous materials in the event of a derailment becomes safer for both rail workers and people near the accident site.

In America, an additional 1,500 trains have derailed in the year since the accident. AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan emphasizes the importance of minimizing derailments with better safety standards and, in the event of a disaster, providing emergency responders with better tools to prevent a larger mishap. He also believes that safety requirements need to be implemented for workers responsible for the safe movement of trains.

The union supported proposals for safer transport of toxic substances, better training for rescue workers, more frequent inspections, and labeling of train carriages carrying hazardous materials.

"We need to ensure that railroads reinstate a culture of safety in their operations and ensure that the members and workers I represent are given all the tools they need to operate trains safely," Regan concluded.