SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Dangerous Cargo, Part 2

By: Ryan Duffy
By: Ryan Duffy

The deadly chemical spill in Graniteville was contained to a one-mile radius. It could have spread to an even wider area, but fortunately weather conditions cooperated.

Local emergency crews are always preparing for the very worst case.

“Assume worst case, be ready for these things and be ready anywhere on the track,” said Pam Tucker, Columbia County EMA Director.

As Columbia County’s modeling shows, a chemical spill from a rail car could have tragic consequences on the entire region. And accidents can and do happen, according to the Federal Railroad Administrator, CSX has had 58 accidents involving hazardous materials and Norfolk Southern has had 16 accidents in Georgia alone in the last five years.

That’s why Mayor Young has joined with mayors from across the country petitioning the railroads for more information on the shipments before they move through. And Georgia’s Association of Mayors recently endorsed his call for a task force review of hazardous material shipments in Georgia.

“They know the time it’s going to leave the yard, the time it gets to its destination, they know all of this, share it with the people that need to know in advance of arrival of those trains,” Tucker said.

And she says not making changes could have long-term effects on life in the area.

“Would you want to build a school 30 yards from a track that regularly ships hazardous material, would you want to build a hospital in proximity to rail lines with hydrochloric acid or chlorine in transit? I don’t believe you would,” Tucker said.

We talked with both CSX and Norfolk Southern about this. They both said they worry about terrorism if they let information on chemical shipments out. They also say they need to protect their client companies privacy and they say it would be just too big a job with all the towns they run through to be able to coordinate it all. But Mayor Young says towns already know now when nuclear shipments are coming through and there has never been a security problem.

A lot of people are now taking a closer look at rail shipments. There are a few lawmakers now looking at new regulations. Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina is one. He has proposed fines as high as $2 million for negligence. It’s all part of a new closer examination of security and shipments on our railways.

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