In Rail Hazmat Crashes, Small Town Firefighters Can Be Vulnerable

"More than 90 million tons of hazardous materials are transported on American railroads a year. The trains rumble by towns at all hours, blaring their horns. Chemicals potent enough to kill people or lead to cancer can be sloshing around inside.

Accidents that result in the release of hazardous materials are rare, but when trains do crash, the consequences can be serious. Most of the recent ones that caused evacuations have happened near small communities, NPR found. Local firefighters who respond are uniquely vulnerable to the effects. But across the country, they are often under-prepared to handle the chemicals when they come off the tracks.

It happened in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. At least 1.1 million pounds of carcinogens were emitted, a federal lawsuit has alleged, after 11 cars with hazardous materials derailed and caught fire. Hundreds of the village's approximately 4,700 residents fled their homes as the East Palestine Fire Department did its best to respond to the scene. The department employs just one full-time firefighter – the rest are volunteers. It took more than six hours after the initial derailment for firefighters trained in flammable liquid emergencies to arrive from nearby East Liverpool."

Chiara Eisner and Nick McMillan report for NPR March 10, 2023.

Source: NPR, 03/14/2023