Another Train Derails, Spilling Toxic Petroleum Products
Yet another train has derailed on U.S. tracks, spilling toxic chemicals.
This time, the train was a Canadian Pacific (CP) train, the accident took place in rural North Dakota and the toxins included petroleum used in asphalt production. However, both officials and the company said that no one was injured and that the spill would not threaten public health.
“CP is committed to the full clean-up of the spilled products and environmental restoration of the site,” company spokesperson Andy Cummings said, as The Washington Post reported.
The derailment occurred at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Sunday around one mile southeast of the town of Wyndmere, North Dakota, Valley News Live reported. Thirty-one of 70 cars went off the tracks in an incident that initial investigations blamed on a broken rail. Among them were at least seven cars containing hazardous chemicals. These chemicals were:
- Liquid asphalt: This is a viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum typically sourced from the heaviest parts of crude oil and used to pave roads, according to the Virginia Asphalt Association. It spilled from four cars.
- Ethylene glycol: This is a synthetic liquid that absorbs water and is often used as antifreeze, according to the National Library of Medicine. Because it is liquid, it spreads easily in the environment and needs to be stopped before it seeps into groundwater or drinking water. It is currently produced from fossil fuels, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It spilled from two cars.
- Propylene: This is an extremely flammable fuel gas that is typically obtained while refining gasoline, according to Linde. One car holding it was punctured, releasing some of the gas, but the puncture was then contained, Cummings told Valley News Live.
Luckily, the spilled chemicals did not start a fire, and the incident did not occur near any waterways, officials said. The company is working with Wyndmere and Richland County first responders and the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality to clean the site, which should take around seven to 10 days.
“I’ve talked to the people as far as the railroad, as far as cleanup and stuff like that. And there will be environmental testing and issues like that going forward, throughout the rest of the year,” Edd Goerger, who owns the land of the derailment site, told Valley News Live. “We have to make sure we work with the railroad, that the heavy traffic going down our roads at this vulnerable time with some thawing have to make sure that the roads are put back too.”
While Sunday’s derailment seems to have avoided catastrophe, it comes as the nation is newly aware of the dangers of moving hazardous chemicals by rail following the Feb. 3 derailment of a train in East Palestine, Ohio that forced 1,500 to 2,000 people to evacuate the site of a spill that included the plastic-production and liver-cancer-linked chemical vinyl chloride. Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the train, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have since said the town is now safe, but independent scientists, activists and residents are less sure, The Guardian reported.
“I don’t believe the government or railway company’s claims that our town is safe,” resident Greg Mascher, who says he still struggles to sleep at night due to coughing despite leaving the town shortly after the accident, wrote in The Guardian Monday. “You hate to say that they’re lying, but they are.”
Since the East Palestine derailment, there have been other high-profile incidents, including another Norfolk Southern derailment in Ohio in early March — which luckily did not release any chemicals — and a BNSF derailment, in Mid-March, which leaked around 5,000 gallons of fuel onto a Swinomish Reservation in Washington State. Also on Sunday, a Union Pacific trail carrying iron ore derailed in San Bernardino County, California, but there was no threat to the public or environment, The Washington Post reported.
The East Palestine derailment has led to a bi-partisan push for rail safety legislation, but it’s important to note that many of the recent derailments have involved chemicals either derived from fossil fuels or used to produce plastic, a petroleum product. In this way, they provide another argument in favor of phasing out the fuels whose burning is largely responsible for the climate crisis.
Subscribe to get exclusive updates in our daily newsletter!