LATEST DERAILMENT: Chemical train on fire near Knoxville Tennessee

Repost from the Knoxville News Sentinel[Editor:  Following the lead story are a number of timely updates.   Additional coverage: CNN: Thousands evacuated…, Huffington Post: Train Carrying Toxic Substance…  LATEST UPDATE AS OF MIDDAY 7/3, “Officials lift evacuation after Tennessee train derailment.“- RS]

Firefighters letting flames burn toxic chemical after Blount County train derailment

News Sentinel staff, Jul 2, 2015 5:54 AM, updated later…
A CSX train burns on Thursday, July 2, 2015, after it derailed near Old Mount Tabor Road in Blount County overnight. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)
UPDATE: Firefighters letting flames burn toxic chemicals

Firefighters haven’t tried to douse flames burning a derailed train car containing a toxic substance that already has sent 10 law enforcement officers to a hospital.

“I think they’re just letting it burn itself out because they don’t want to get too close to it,” Blount County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marian O’Briant said Thursday morning.

“It’s very toxic.”

The flammable chemical is Acrylonitrile, a substance used in manufacturing plastics. The chemical is considered carcinogenic. Exposure can burn the skin, inflame the lining of the lungs and nose and cause headaches, nausea and dizziness.

O’Briant said five officers with the Sheriff’s Office and five from the Alcoa Police Department were exposed to the substance during efforts to evacuate 5,000 people from a 2-mile radius from the derailment.

“Going door to door, they just breathed in some of the fumes,” she said.

The Sheriff’s Office called in extra officers to deal with the situation, O’Briant said.

“Just about every emergency agency in Blount County is involved,” she said.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency also has joined the effort.

Authorities have closed a section of U.S. Highway 321 between the bypass to West Blount Drive, O’Briant said. She was unsure if a detour route had been established.

Residents who use wells from south of Robert C. Jackson Drive off US. 321 to Friendsville should not drink the water, she said.

“They recommend you don’t drink the well water until further notice,” O’Briant said. “It’s just a precaution for now.”

Officers initially established a shelter for displaced residents at the Foothills Mall, but later moved people to Heritage High School. The American Red Cross chapter is staffing the high school to help those evacuated.

“Streaming in and out it’s about 100 people,” O’Briant said of the number of people at the high school.

“There’s fewer people now than there was earlier because they’re calling friends and relatives and finding places to stay,” she said.

Dayanny Hernandez, 18, and the rest of her extended family headed to the emergency room shortly after 10 a.m.

Hernandez and her mother complained of a headache, stomach pains and sore throat hours after a train carrying poisonous liquids derailed in Blount County.

“It’s hard to explain,” Hernandez said of the feeling in her throat and stomach.

Ana Castro, a family member who is 14 weeks pregnant and lives nearby, said she too wanted to get checked out. She woke at 3 this morning when a tired-looking firefighter banged on apartment door.

Clutching her 1-year-old daughter, she stood and ate breakfast with her extended family at Heritage High School before leaving for the hospital. CSX has said they would reimburse the family for the doctor’s visit.

Sandra Kelley left her yorkie and maltipoo at home this morning when authorities knocked on her door at 1 a.m., telling her to evacuate.

“I feel so bad because I only thought we would be gone for a couple of hours,” Kelley said.

One dog is in a cage; the other in the bathroom. Neither has food or water and authorities have since said it could be 48 hours before residents are allowed back into their homes.

A Red Cross assured Kelley the dogs would be OK. But O’Briant said it’s been a common problem.

A number of people have asked about returning home to get their dogs, but authorities will not let anyone through, she said.

Authorities said the evacuation could remain in force for 24-48 hours.

The Blount Partnership said in a statement that it is working with the businesses and residents affected by the train derailment.

“We will assist all businesses and individuals affected by this accident any way we can to get them operating as soon as possible,” said Bryan Daniels, Blount Partnership president/CEO.

Displaced residents with pets are being told to take the critters to the Blount County Animal Shelter on Curry Avenue, O’Briant said. Pets are not allowed at the high school shelter.

— Don Jacobs and Megan Boehnke

UPDATE: Pellissippi campus used as command center

It’s highly unlikely that anyone was on campus in the hours after a train derailed and displaced residents near the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College.

Anthony Wise, the community college’s president, closed the campus about 6 this morning, and emergency workers are using the campus as a command center, said Julia Wood, a Pellissippi spokeswoman.

Wood said it was highly unlikely anyone was on campus before 6 a.m. since it was so early and the roads to the campus would have been blocked by emergency workers.

There are 145 students registered for summer classes on the Blount County campus, and there are 20 faculty and staff who work there as well.

But Wood said only those with classes today would have been on campus.

The campus was already scheduled to be closed Friday for Independence Day.

— MJ Slaby
UPDATE: Federal investigators on the scene

A statement from the Federal Railroad Administration said the agency had investigators and hazmat inspectors at the scene of a train derailment in Blount County.

“Once it is safe, FRA will begin a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the derailment,” the statement said.

— The Associated Press

UPDATE: Emergency workers decontaminated

Authorities have decontaminated 10 emergency workers exposed Thursday to a toxic substance released during a train derailment and the resulting fire, and another dozen first responders are expected to undergo the cleansing operation.

Blount Memorial Hospital spokesman Josh West said three of the first responders had been decontaminated by 4:15 a.m. in a special tent set up behind the hospital. The other seven first responders had been cleansed as of 7 a.m.

“We expect 12 more at this time, but they haven’t come through yet,” West said.

He identified the toxic substance as acrylonitrile, a colorless liquid used in the manufacture of plastics. Exposure can burn the skin, cause nausea, headaches and dizziness, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At least one death has been recorded from inhalation of the substance.

West said after being scrubbed down, the workers underwent oxygen breathing treatments to “sort of flush the lungs to make sure there’s no problem.” West was unsure for which agencies the first responders worked. None of the treated workers have been released from the hospital. West was unsure how long the workers will be kept at the facility.

“That’s kind of fluid,” he said. “We’re holding them for observation.”

West said no residents were treated for exposure to the substance. The hospital was assisting two residents who were evacuated so quickly they were unable to get all their medical supplies and medications together.

— Don Jacobs

UPDATE: Statement from CSX

CSX is working with first responders and relief agencies in Maryville following the derailment of a tank car that is on fire. CSX personnel are on hand at an Outreach Center that has been established at Heritage High School. Displaced residents are being offered assistance, including lodging.

Around midnight, a train en route from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Waycross, Ga., derailed the single tank car loaded with acrylonitrile, a hazardous material used in a variety of industrial processes including the manufacture of plastics. The substance is flammable and presents an inhalation risk. First responders have ordered an evacuation of residences and businesses in a two-mile radius.

The train consists of two locomotives and 57 cars, including 45 loaded cars and 12 empty cars. Cars of acrylonitrile are located on either side of the burning rail car. No crude oil is among the rail cars. A total of 27 cars in the train are carrying hazardous materials.

UPDATE: Second Harvest food deliveries delayed

Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee will not be able to make deliveries Thursday due to the derailment.

The food bank’s 80,000-square-foot warehouse off Middlesettlements Road is in the evacuation area, according to executive director Elaine Streno.

Closings due to train derailment

Pellissippi State’s Blount County campus
Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse (no food delivery of pickups today)
Denso Manufacturing plant
The food bank’s six programs provide 1.1 million meals a month in an 18-county area.

It will resume deliveries when the area is no longer sealed off.

— News Sentinel staff

ORIGINAL REPORT: Train derailment forces 5,000 from their homes

A CSX train carrying a “highly flammable and toxic” gas derailed in Blount County on Wednesday night, forcing the evacuation of 5,000 people from their homes.

The derailment was reported about 11:50 p.m. Wednesday at the crossing at Old Mount Tabor Road, according to an emergency dispatcher. Flames erupted from the scene.

The Blount County Fire Department and the Maryville Fire Department responded.

Authorities have not released details about the number of train cars involved in the crash or the specific substances involved.

Officers with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office have been evacuating a two-mile radius around the derailment. Displaced residents without another place to go were initially housed at the Foothills Mall. Later the American Red Cross established a shelter at Heritage High School. All those in need of a place to stay are being directed to the high school, authorities said.

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page Thursday morning that the evacuation could last 24 to 48 hours.

Authorities have established a command center at Pellissippi State Community College off U.S. Highway 321.

More details as they develop online and in Friday’s News Sentinel.

— Don Jacobs

Oil trains in California risk to minorities, poor, report says

Repost from

Crude oil trains in California risk to minorities, poor, report says

By Bob Downing, June 30, 2015

From ForestEthics today:  Highest Threat from Oil Trains in California Aligned with Race and Income: New Environmental Justice Report Links Dangerous Rail Routes with Census Data

[Oakland, CA] Public interest groups today released the Crude Injustice on the Rails report evaluating the disparate threat to people of color and low-income communities from explosions and pollution from crude oil trains in California.

The groups ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment evaluated oil train routes and US Census data to determine who was at greatest risk from pollution and potential oil trains derailments and explosions, like the fatal July 2013 Lac Megantic oil train disaster.

“It’s simple, oil trains contribute to environmental racism in California,” says Nile Malloy, Northern California Program Director, Communities for a Better Environment. “Environmental justice communities like Richmond and Wilmington that already live with the highest risk are hardest hit. It’s time for a just and quick transition to clean energy.”

The groups report that Californians of color are more likely to live in the oil train blast zone, the dangerous one-mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. While 60 percent of Californians live in environmental justice communities – communities with racial minorities, low income, or non-English speaking households – 80 percent of the 5.5 million Californians with homes in the blast zone live in environmental justice communities. Nine out of ten of California’s largest cities on oil train routes have an even higher rate of discriminatory impact than the state average. In these cities, 82–100 percent of people living in the blast zone are in environmental justice communities.

“The maps paint a scary picture of who lives with threat of explosions and the health risks from pollution and disruption from dangerous 100-plus car crude oil trains,” says Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director and one of the authors of the report. “In California you are 33 percent more likely to live in the blast zone if you live in a nonwhite, low income, or non-English speaking household.”

The groups recommend immediate federal, state and local action to address this environmental discrimination, including a moratorium on oil imports into the state by rail, and action by the state attorney general, US EPA Office of Civil Rights, and US Department of Justice to enforce federal and state laws.

“Oil trains are a threat to our communities and to our climate — but the threat is not evenly shared,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics executive director. “The Crude Injustice report shows that in California people of color are the most exposed to these dangers demonstrating another area where our nation’s past and current challenges on issues of race show up loud and clear.”

“Our communities are working to build healthier, greener and thriving communities,” says Alicia Rivera, Communities for a Better Environment Los Angeles organizer.  “Crude by rail is another deadly threat to our families.  This is why we are joining across communities to demand environmental rights along the rails, on July 11th,” Rivera said.

July 6-11 ForestEthics, CBE, and other groups are coordinating the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action with more than 100 events across the US and Canada.

The report, Crude Injustice on the Rails: Race and the Disparate Risk from Oil Trains in California, is available in English and Spanish at:


ForestEthics demands environmental responsibility from government and the biggest companies in the world. Visit our to see if you are one of the 25 million Americans who live in the dangerous one-mile oil train evacuation zone.

CBE works to build people’s power in California’s communities of color and low-income communities to achieve environmental health and justice by preventing and reducing pollution and building green, healthy and sustainable communities and environments.

Repost from ForestEthics

Crude Injustice on Rails in California

By Eddie Scher, Monday Jun 29, 2015

Environmental Injustice on RailsPublic interest groups today released the Crude Injustice on the Rails report evaluating the disparate threat to people of color and low-income communities from explosions and pollution from crude oil trains in California.

The groups ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment evaluated oil train routes and US Census data to determine who was at greatest risk from  pollution and potential oil trains derailments and explosions, like the fatal July 2013 Lac Megantic oil train disaster.

REPORT: Crude Injustice on the Rails: Race and Disparate Risk from Oil Train in California

REPORTE: La Cruda Injusticia de los Carriles: Raza y el Riesgo Desproporcionado de los Trenes Petroleros en California

For more information about the environmental justice impacts on Latino and low-income communities of color in California blast zones, contact Communities for a Better Environment.

Senator: Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee

Repost from The Columbus Dispatch

Using bad tank cars? Then pay a fee, Brown proposes

By Rick Rouan, June 30, 2015 11:36 PM

Sen. Sherrod Brown wants shippers using tank cars that have been linked to fiery train derailments to pay fees that would be used to reroute train tracks, train first responders and clean up spills.

Brown has proposed fees that start at $175 per car for those using the DOT-11 [sic], a tank car that federal regulators have warned hazardous-material shippers against using.

The fees would pay to clean up hazardous-material spills, to move tracks that handle large volumes of hazardous material and to hire more railroad inspectors. Brown’s bill earmarks about $45 million over three years to train first responders near rail lines that carry large quantities of hazardous material.

Earlier this year, federal regulators tightened rules on newly manufactured tank cars but did not require shippers to immediately remove the old cars.

“(The rule) probably didn’t go far enough,” Brown said on Tuesday at the site of a 2012 derailment and explosion near the state fairgrounds. “If it’s a threat to public safety, they probably need to be off the rails.”

The federal rule will phase out or require retrofitting of thousands of the oldest tank cars that carry crude oil by 2018. Another wave of the oil-carrying tankers would have to change by 2020.

Some of the tank cars that aren’t carrying crude oil would not be replaced or retrofitted until 2025.

Brown’s proposal calls for a tax credit for companies that upgrade their tank cars to the new federal standard in the next three years.

Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, said his organization would oppose the fee structure Brown proposed.

“We think the federal focus should be on the rail carriers and their efforts to improve track integrity,” he said. “We want to see legislation that beefs up track integrity to keep the trains on the track.”

A spokesman for the American Association of Railroads declined to comment on Brown’s proposal. The organization is appealing the new federal standard, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to require shippers to stop using the DOT-111 tank cars and should require more heat protection on the cars, spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

The cars have been involved in several fiery derailments while carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to East Coast refineries. In July 2013, a runaway train killed 47 people and destroyed the business district in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

And in February, a train carrying volatile Bakken crude derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., after it likely traveled through Columbus. The train was run by CSX, which has three tracks that carry crude oil converging in Columbus before they head toward West Virginia.

On July 11, 2012, a Norfolk Southern train slipped the rails just north of Downtown. One of the cars punctured, spilling ethanol and causing an explosion and fire. Two people were injured and about 100 people were evacuated.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a broken track caused the derailment.

“Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident,” Brown said.

A recent analysis for Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security found that crude oil represents the largest share of hazardous material transported by rail through the region, Director Mike Pannell said.

Earlier this year, the state released reports showing that 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken crude travel through the state each week.

Local first responders have procedures in place to handle derailments but not specific plans for every piece of track, including lines that run through residential areas, said Karry Ellis, an assistant chief in the Columbus Fire Division.

Brown’s proposal calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation to study whether first responders are prepared for flammable-liquid spills and whether longer freight trains pose a greater risk.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.