|East Palestine, Ohio (Photo by Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press)|
The additional derailments amplify "the risk posed by hazardous materials moving through the nation’s towns and cities. . . . That is a risk that is often invisible until, suddenly, it explodes." Elbein writes. "Last year also saw a spill of 19,300 gallons of hydrochloric acid from a derailment in Oklahoma and 20,000 gallons of nervous system-distorting methyl methacrylate monomer. Since 2015, the U.S. rail system has been responsible for 106 derailments in which hazardous materials were released, according to Federal Railway Administration data analyzed by The Hill."
“Local communities don’t know what’s in these trains,” said Kristen Boyle, an attorney with public interest law firm Earthjustice, told Elbein. “Local communities can’t find out. They can’t stop the trains from going through, and they have been unable to get safety regulations. . . . And then they’re the ones left with, you know, the explosion."
The potential for problems is large. "Trains also carry far more cargo than trucks — making the risks of a spill far more severe. And the sheer volume of U.S. rail travel means that even a failure rate of 0.1 percent can lead to a lot of damage," Elbein reports. "For example, about 20,000 rail shipments of vinyl chloride — the highly explosive and carcinogenic chemical that Norfolk Southern contractors poured in a ditch and burned off in East Palestine — cross the country each year, according to the American Chemical Society. . . . That 99.5 percent success rate would still allow for 100 possible releases of a hazardous chemical — such as crude oil, ethanol, vinyl chloride or methane."