Lawsuit Filed Calling for Ban on Fracked Oil Bomb Trains
Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club and ForestEthics, challenging the Department of Transportation's rejection of their July request for an immediate ban of DOT-111 rail tanker cars carrying volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale formation.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called in 2012 for an immediate ban for these tankers, which are prone to puncture in the case of accidents, crashes and rollovers, causing explosions and fires. Two-thirds of the rail cars carrying crude oil through the U.S. are DOT-111s. The industry has insisted that discontinuing their use or phasing them out rapidly would be too costly, asking for four years to phase out the older cars and up to six years for the newer ones. This lawsuit challenges the Department of Transportation's assertion that they have responded sufficiently to the dangers posed by the cars.
The court filing said, "Petitioners ask the Court to set aside and remand the Secretary’s denial of the petition to ban shipping Bakken crude oil in unsafe tank cars because the Secretary failed to consider pertinent evidence and several relevant factors, including the Secretary’s past findings that the surge in crude-by-rail shipments of Bakken crude in dangerous tank cars poses imminent hazards and emergency unsafe conditions, the number of rail accidents and oil spills likely to occur during the time it will take to stop shipping Bakken crude in the most hazardous tank cars through rulemaking, Canada’s more expeditious phase out of the most hazardous tank cars and the safety hazards of allowing the industry to more than double the crude oil fleet before removing the most dangerous tank cars from crude-by-rail shipping."
"Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. "The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The NTSB called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the DOT’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”
Referencing the accident in July 2013 that killed 47 people and leveled more than 30 buildings in the city's downtown, Goldman said, “We can’t afford to wait for another Lac-Mégantic, Quebec-type catastrophe to happen here.”
The train that exploded in Lac-Mégantic was carrying the flammable Bakken crude oil when its brake system disengaged in the middle of the night, sending 60 DOT-111 cars roaring at high speed into town, where they derailed and blew up near a popular nightspot, killing many of the patrons. That was only the most lethal of the many derailments and fires caused by unsafe rail cars carrying the flammable cargo, and their numbers have dramatically increased with the fracking boom. In 2008 just as the boom got underway, 9,500 carloads of oil moved over U.S. rails; in 2013 railroads carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil. More crude oil was spilled in rail accidents in 2013 than in the previous 38 years, when the government started collecting data on such spills.
“The oil industry wants to double the number of tanker cars moving crude oil on U.S. tracks before removing any of these antiquated cars," said Sierra Club attorney Devorah Ancel. "And the Department of Transportation is playing along, allowing industry up to six years to get these cars off the tracks. That’s too long to wait for a recall of these dangerous tank cars.”
With the DOT slow to act, many communities through which the trains pass are acting on their own, with communities on the west coast particularly aggressive in seeking to protect themselves through litigation.
“More than 25 million Americans live within a mile of a railroad track that could be hauling explosive crude oil, and towns and emergency responders across the country are calling for action," said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director. "The administration’s draft regulations are too little and far too late. We are challenging the administration to ensure that the oil industry, railroads, and the federal government do not wait to take these dangerous tanker cars off the rails.”
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
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