I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: What hazmat is moving through the CSRA?

Thursday, January 17, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The I-TEAM is continuing to investigate a train derailment in Jefferson County that spilled dangerous chemicals into the air, causing the town to evacuate.

The CSRA is no stranger to these types of derailments. Our I-TEAM wanted to know what other dangerous chemicals move through our area, how often, and who knows when they do.

14-years-ago, a train carrying three tankers filled with chlorine crashed into a parked train in Graniteville.

The toxic gas escaped and hovered in the air, killing nine people and injuring hundreds.

Daniel Britt lived just outside of the evacuation zone.

“My friend worked with me out there. When they found out they couldn't find his dad, he took off. Come to find out later that afternoon, he had lost his dad,” said Britt.

14-years to the day, a 911 call came in town about 70 miles south of Graniteville.

It was the same train company, involved in a derailment, carrying the same deadly cargo on board.

Norfolk Southern wouldn't tell News 12 everything on board, but they did say 13 train cars were carrying chlorine. Fortunately, they claim none of those leaked. But, that is more than four times the number of cars involved in the deadly Graniteville disaster.

"If something like that would've come through here, it would've been catastrophic. It was already bad enough,” said Britt.

So what is coming through the CSRA every day? Trains are required to put hazmat placards on train cars, designating dangerous loads.

Since the Graniteville disaster, they also have to carry those loads in the back of the train.

But as for who knows what and when dangerous chemicals are moving through a town, only the train companies know. The state and federal oversight is not what you might expect.

EMA officials tell News 12 that they are told---always assume a train involved in an accident around here is carrying dangerous chemicals.

Last year, inspectors found more than 3,000 hazmat violations on trains and those are just the ones reported to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Since Daniel now works right beside ground zero of the Graniteville disaster, he can't help but assume that.

“When we're at work and trains going by, we kind of get nervous sometimes because you never know what’s going to happen,” said Britt.

Once a train reaches its destination, most loads have to travel at least some distance by truck.

News 12 filed an open records request for a Columbia County traffic study, tracking what sort of hazardous material moves down I-20 in a 24 hour period.

The study found more than 6 million pounds of hazardous cargo including ammonia, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, and radioactive nuclear fuel rods, to name a few, on I-20. That's just in a day's time.