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Oil Train Disaster Anniversary Kicks Off Week of Action and 'Blast Zone' Mapping Tool
On July 6, 2013, one year ago yesterday, a train carrying oil derailed in the sleepy Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, resulting in an explosion so wild and so hot it leveled several city blocks and incinerated the bodies of many of its 47 victims.
The accident put the tiny town on the international media circuit and dragged a new social concern with it: oil trains. Whether you call them oil trains, tanker trains or bomb trains, chances are you didn’t call them anything at all before that day last year.
Before the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic, several smaller tanker train accidents across North America had already raised alarm over the danger of transporting oil and other fuels by rail in small communities with tracks often running through city centres and residential areas.
In the wake of Lac-Mégantic, however, critics, environmental organizations, journalists and concerned communities began tracking the growing movement of volatile oil shipments across the continent.
Keeping pace with oil transport
Overall shipments of oil by rail have increased by 28,000 percent since 2009.
In 2012 nearly 40,000 barrels of oil were shipped to the U.S. each day, although surging oil production in the Bakken Shale has simultaneously led to an increase of oil by rail shipments of crude north of the border.
In 2013 oil train accidents resulted in more than 1.15 million gallons of spilled oil. This represents a 50-fold increase over the yearly average between 1975 and 2012.
According to some, the surge in rail transport of petroleum products has outpaced regulatory oversight. Lax oversight may have contributed to the devastation at Lac-Mégantic, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
In an October 2013 report, author Bruce Campbell, the CCPA’s executive director, wrote, “In my view, the evidence points to a fundamentally flawed regulatory system, cost-cutting corporate behavior that jeopardized public safety and the environment, and responsibility extending to the highest levels of corporate management and government policy making.”
According to Transport Safety Board of Canada data, accidents involving dangerous goods have increased since last year.
Screen shot of TSB Canada data complied by CTV News.
Poor Tank Design, Poorer Response Plan
According to CN Rail chief executive Claude Monegau, poor tank car design was “one of the most important systematic issues” leading to the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. Earlier this year a Canadian government-commissioned rail safety group said more needed to be done to ensure the safety of oil tanker cars carrying crude through communities.
Since then the government has implemented a plan to upgrade or retire generic oil tanker cars, known as DOT-111s. In February there were roughly 228,000 DOT-111 cars in operation across North American and 92,000 of those were carrying flammable liquids.
Civil engineering expert and professor Roza Galvez-Cloutier, who examined the derailment in Lac-Mégantic, recently said no appropriate plans or equipment are in place to prevent a similar situation from recurring in Canada.
“There was an evident lack of preparation at all levels,” Galvez-Cloutier said recently in a Science Media Centre of Canada webinar reviewing the events at Lac-Mégantic. “Prevention measures, preparedness and emergency plans need to urgently be updated.”
“I think there was a panic and there was a lack of co-ordination,” she said.
At the time of the incident, firefighters were cooling oil tankers without having subdued the fire, Galvez-Cloutier recounted, adding the emergency response personnel did not know what the composition of the burning oil was.
Had they known, it’s likely they would have responded more appropriately to the fire, Galvez-Cloutier said, using foam suppressants, for example.
“I know that Ultramar brought in, as a last resort, some foam to assist, but this was based on their goodwill, not a pre-planned emergency measure,” she said.
Grassroots Groups Respond
The increase in oil tanker accidents led a coalition of environmental organizations to create an Oil by Rail Week of Action between July 6 and 13. The coalition includes ForestEthics, Oil Change International, 350.org and the Sierra Club.
Today, the groups plan to launch a "blast zone" website which will make communities along oil tanker routes searchable by address.
Eddie Scher, spokesperson for ForestEthics, said the website brings together rail industry data and Google maps to make evacuations zones visible.
“It allows you to plug in your address and see where you sit in relation to this Google map blast zone,” Scher told DeSmog Canada by phone.
“And what you find, which isn’t that surprising, is that these trains—mile long trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil—go right through the center of almost very major city in U.S.”
“Our rail system was designed to carry goods, not carry hazardous materials through city centers,” Scher said.
Major cities including L.A., Oakland and Chicago have oil trains running through them.
The database, which is searchable for both U.S. and Canadian addresses, is designed to bring information about oil train transport to the public, something Scher says should already be available to the communities along rail transport lines.
“It’s pretty outrageous that we’re the ones to have to do this. We’re happy that emergency responders have this information but everyone should know what’s going on.”
“We’re working on the numbers right now, but it’s easy to say with the information we have that 10 of millions of Americans live in that blast zone,” Scher said.
“The amount of the populations that is threatened is huge. What we’re really trying to do is to let folks see what is going on.”
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Cabin fever is often associated with being cooped up on a rainy weekend or stuck inside during a winter blizzard.
In reality, though, it can actually occur anytime you feel isolated or disconnected from the outside world.
What is cabin fever?<p>In popular expressions, cabin fever is used to explain feeling bored or listless because you've been stuck inside for a few hours or days. But that's not the reality of the symptoms.</p><p>Instead, cabin fever is a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people may face if they're isolated or feeling cut off from the world.</p><p>These feelings of isolation and loneliness are more likely in times of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/yes-covid-19-cases-are-rising-why-you-still-need-to-practice-social-distancing" target="_blank">social distancing</a>, self-quarantining during a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-pandemic" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, or sheltering in place because of severe weather.</p><p>Indeed, cabin fever can lead to a series of symptoms that can be difficult to manage without proper coping techniques.</p><p>Cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological disorder, but that doesn't mean the feelings aren't real. The distress is very real. It can make fulfilling the requirements of everyday life difficult.</p>
What are the symptoms?<p>Symptoms of cabin fever go far beyond feeling bored or "stuck" at home. They're rooted in an intense feeling of isolation and may include:</p><ul><li>restlessness</li><li>decreased motivation</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irritability" target="_blank">irritability</a></li><li>hopelessness</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/unable-to-concentrate" target="_blank">difficulty concentrating</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irregular-sleep-wake-syndrome" target="_blank">irregular sleep patterns</a>, including sleepiness or sleeplessness</li><li>difficulty waking up</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/lethargy" target="_blank">lethargy</a></li><li>distrust of people around you</li><li>lack of patience</li><li>persistent <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-vs-sadness" target="_blank">sadness or depression<br></a></li></ul>
What can help you cope with cabin fever?<p>Because cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological condition, there's no standard "treatment." However, mental health professionals do recognize that the symptoms are very real.</p><p>The coping mechanism that works best for you will have a lot to do with your personal situation and the reason you're secluded in the first place.</p><p>Finding meaningful ways to engage your brain and occupy your time can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.</p><p>The following ideas are a good place to start.</p>
When to get help<p>Cabin fever is often a fleeting feeling. You may feel irritable or frustrated for a few hours, but having a virtual chat with a friend or finding a task to distract your mind may help erase the frustrations you felt earlier.</p><p>Sometimes, however, the feelings may grow stronger, and no coping mechanisms may be able to successfully help you eliminate your feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression.</p><p>What's more, if your time indoors is prolonged by outside forces, like weather or extended shelter-in-place orders from your local government, feelings of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety" target="_blank">anxiety</a> and fear are valid.</p><p>In fact, anxiety may be at the root of some cabin fever symptoms. This may make symptoms worse.</p><p>If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you're experiencing. Together, you can identify ways to overcome the feelings and anxiety.</p><p>Of course, if you're in isolation or practicing social distancing, you'll need to look for alternative means for seeing a mental health expert.</p><p>Telehealth options may be available to connect you with your therapist if you already have one. If you don't, reach out to your doctor for recommendations about mental health specialists who can connect with you online.</p><p>If you don't want to talk to a therapist, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps" target="_blank">smartphone apps for depression</a> may provide a complementary option for addressing your cabin fever symptoms.</p>
The bottom line<p>Isolation isn't a natural state for many people. We are, for the most part, social animals. We enjoy each other's company. That's what can make staying at home for extended periods of time difficult.</p><p>However, whether you're sheltering at home to avoid dangerous weather conditions or heeding the guidelines to help minimize the spread of a disease, staying at home is often an important thing we must do for ourselves and our communities.</p><p>If and when it's necessary, finding ways to engage your brain and occupy your time may help bat back cabin fever and the feelings of isolation and restlessness that often accompany it.</p>
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