CSX Train Derailment: Hazardous Materials Leak Causes Concern [Video]

A CSX train derailment in Washington, DC, involving a possible hazardous materials leak causes concern, but things might not be as alarming as initially thought.

As reported by CNN, a CSX freight train derailed at 6:40 a.m. “near the Rhode Island Avenue metro station” in Washington, DC. According to NBC Washington, 14 cars derailed, with three of them spilling hazardous materials. The train, which was “traveling from Cumberland, Maryland, to Hamlet, North Carolina,” had a total of 175 cars.

CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay stated that one of the derailed cars contained approximately 15,500 gallons of sodium hydroxide. This “highly corrosive chemical” is very dangerous, capable of irritating and burning the skin and eyes. Assistant Fire Chief John Donnelly estimated that roughly half of the rail car’s contents spilled beneath it and onto the railbed.

The CSX derailment also resulted in a calcium chloride solution. However, this non-hazardous material leak didn’t cause any harm. Ethanol reportedly leaked from a third derailed car. These materials aren’t quite as outright concerning as the sodium hydroxide leak. The chemical isn’t outright combustible, but when sodium hydroxide makes contact with moisture or air, the CDC warns, “it can generate sufficient heat to ignite combustible substances.”

In addition to cleaning up the leak, Donnelly said that crews pumped the remainder of the hazardous material from the derailed CSX freight train.

Despite the worry over the derailment and resulting chemical spill, the assistant fire chief told CNN that the surrounding community is in no real danger. The incident resulted in no injuries or loss of life; no evacuations were arranged for “nearby homes and businesses.”

Instead, the derailment was more of an inconvenience. The Washington Post wrote the train’s derailment left individuals stranded. It also forced a Metro station’s closure, while the response from emergency personnel “snarled traffic.”

Fortunately, the chemical spill was contained by noon. Even so, CSX remains unsure how long it will take to clean up the spilled chemicals or “upright the trains” overturned during the derailment.

It appears that CSX and Washington’s officials got lucky with this particular incident. Despite hazardous materials spilling due to the derailment, it represents no known threat to the community. The problem is that a series of derailments in recent years has resulted in multiple toxic spills.

These incidents can sometimes pose a serious risk to the nearby communities — not to mention the environment. Derailment of trains carrying hazardous materials has become such a worry to members of the public, there’s even a movement to stop using trains to transport these substances.

Interestingly enough, ThinkProgress voiced concerns in 2013 about such materials being transported on CSX trains “straight through the heart of Washington, DC.”

“In the nation’s capital, commuter rails run underground and freight trains rarely stop so the risk of a serious hazmat incident due to a derailment is relatively low.”

“But that risk would significantly increase under a proposal by CSX which is currently being considered by the U.S. and D.C. Departments of Transportation. If approved, the company would dig a massive trench, and uncovered freight trains would carry crude oil and other hazardous materials in the open, less than 50 feet from the homes of families, children, and seniors and less than one mile from the U.S. Capitol building.”

According to the site linked by ThinkProgress, the previously proposed tunnel is already under construction.

Perhaps that’s what makes this derailment such a disconcerting situation. Train derailments and toxic spills are major problems across the country. Allowing such materials to travel so close to highly populated areas arguably represents a massive (and unnecessary) risk.

Is this derailment a sign that the CSX trench project should be scrapped or are members of the public overreacting? Share your thoughts below.

[AP Photo/Cliff Owen]