Burning ethanol can cause all sorts of complaints, including headaches, dizziness, and irritation to the eyes and airways. It took about eight hours to bring the fire under control and about 900 residents were evacuated in the dark. There were no deaths.
Currently, railroad safety in the United States is put under a magnifying glass. Earlier this month, a freight train derailed in western Washington state, spilling about 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel within the boundaries of the Swinomish Tribal Community. That train was operated by Texan carrier BSNF — just like the one that derailed Thursday in Minnesota. “We apologize,” CEO Katie Ex told a press conference Thursday. “We take full responsibility.”
Thousands of fish died
Two months ago, a freight train exploded in the Ohio forest village of East Palestine. The train contained vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing substance, and a large amount of it disappeared into the ground with fire-fighting water. At that time smoke was visible from space.
‘East Palestine’ became the scene of a national scandal. In the weeks following the accident, residents began reporting all kinds of health complaints. The riverbanks were strewn with thousands of dead fish, frogs and crabs. It took Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg 10 days to name the derailment, which drew heavy criticism from President Joe Biden’s administration.
That error will not repeat itself on Thursday. “We’re following the case closely and we’re investigating,” Buttigieg said hours after the crash.
Three tracks per day
Train accidents are common in America. According to statistics from the Federal Railway Administration, about 1,154 trains, or more than three flights per day, derailed in 2022. In addition, toxins are often released.
US safety rules on railroads have not been tightened but weakened in recent years. Under Barack Obama’s presidency, new regulations were introduced to regulate the transportation of hazardous materials. For example, freight trains required modern, electric braking systems. But those rules were changed by Donald Trump after lobbying by carriers and President Biden has so far failed to re-tighten security requirements.
It’s still unclear how Thursday’s derailment happened in Minnesota. The accident in Ohio was caused by a broken braking system and dates back to the 19th century – during the American Civil War.
The transport department has announced new security measures including about a thousand sensors on the track to detect derailment earlier. Several members of Congress are promising more proposals in the future to reduce the number of derailments. Still not that far.
A mitigating circumstance: Minnesota’s northern location, unlike Ohio, appears to somewhat limit environmental impact. According to Gov. Tim Waltz, most toxins cannot penetrate hard-frozen ground until they evaporate or burn. So no dead fish is expected this time.
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