Top Five Train Derailment Toxic Chemical Disasters

Top Five Train Derailment Toxic Chemical Disasters

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Top Five Train Derailment Toxic Chemical Disasters

The recent train derailment disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, has sparked national interest—mostly about the shocking lapses in railroad safety and issues with oversight that led to the release of toxic chemicals into the environment, potentially endangering the lives of nearly 5,000 residents. While railroad incidents like this one are relatively rare, when they do happen, the impact on humans, livestock, and wildlife is frequently catastrophic.  

Exposure to toxic chemicals can result in serious health problems and steep medical costs. Still, every year, negligent companies cut corners for the sake of profit despite the severe risks to innocent people and the environment. The personal injury lawyers at Morgan and Morgan have a lot of experience litigating on behalf of clients whose lives were permanently altered due to toxic chemical exposure.

Suppose a toxic chemical disaster has impacted you or someone you care about. In that case, we'd like to talk to you about your legal options to recover compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses. Poor decisions by railroad executives in an inadequately regulated industry shouldn't go unpunished. Here is a look at the top five toxic train derailment chemical disasters to date:

Paulsboro, New Jersey, 2012

In 2012, seven Conrail train cars derailed when a bridge collapsed in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Four train cars fell into Mantua Creek, one of which was carrying vinyl chloride, and 23,000 gallons of the toxic chemical was released into the air and into the creek. Vinyl chloride, a toxic gas, is used in plastics, adhesives, and other chemicals. When the gas mixed with the water, it created a vapor cloud that spread over large portions of the town. Unfortunately, first responders failed to follow safety standards for a chemical spill, significantly increasing their exposure.

Additionally, Paulsboro Police reported the chemical spill was non-toxic. This happened even after fire authorities learned the chemical was highly flammable and linked to breathing and nervous system health issues. Furthermore, instead of evacuating the area, the police issued a shelter-in-place order because of the misinformation.

While public officials maintained the hazard had dissipated, teams in charge of monitoring the air were still detecting vinyl chloride throughout the morning. Evacuation orders weren't in place until the evening of the accident, and some residents weren't allowed to return home for more than a week. One resident reported being told not to leave her home, exposing her to the hazard for most of the day.   

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Conrail and the city of Paulsboro were to blame for the disaster. The town shared in the blame because they were over two years overdue in filing an updated emergency plan with state officials as well as failing to identify the spill as toxic, and ordering residents to evacuate accordingly. Conrail failed to adequately train the conductor on the use of moveable bridges and apparently chose to ignore the advice of a consultant who warned the company to discontinue using the bridge because of repeated problems. Both Conrail and Paulsboro failed to alert the town's residents of the hazardous materials routinely moved through the town.

According to NTSB findings, 28 residents and 20 first responders required medical treatment due to exposure.

Graniteville, South Carolina, 2005

In early January 2005, two Norfolk Southern trains crashed in Graniteville, South Carolina, due to a misaligned railroad switch. The railroad switch had to be manually turned for deliveries, and crew members forgot to switch the rail back, leading to the disaster. Still, there was no mechanism in place to remind them. Three engines and 18 cars were derailed, releasing 60 tons of liquefied chlorine gas into the environment.

The accident killed nine people, and more than 250 people had to be treated for exposure to toxic chlorine gas. Here again, first responders failed to follow safety protocol because they had not received sufficient training to deal with a toxic chemical derailment. The railroad failed to call the National Response Center for over an hour and fifteen minutes. The head of the local fire department was also an employee of the railroad.

Five thousand four hundred residents had to be evacuated for almost two weeks while HAZMAT crews worked to decontaminate the area. The NTSB blamed the disaster on the crew members for failing to realign the switch. Many of the victims worked at the nearby textile producer, Avondale Mills. The company filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern for negligence, which was settled out of court for a confidential figure. Norfolk Southern paid an additional $4 million for violating the Clean Water Act and other hazardous materials laws.

Maryville, Tennessee, 2015

A CSX Transportation train derailed in Maryville, Tennessee, in 2015 carrying the hazardous material acrylonitrile. The chemical is used in industrial processes such as making plastics and is flammable and dangerous if inhaled. The chemical caught fire, causing thousands of people within a 2-mile radius to be evacuated. First responders had to be treated for inhalation of the toxic substance, but otherwise, there were no injuries. Still, fifty-two people sought medical treatment for possible exposure because they were suffering from respiratory problems. Twenty-five were hospitalized.

To date, authorities have not been able to conclude the exact cause of the derailment. Still, they suspect the likely reason was a failure of a roller bearing on the axle of the wheel of the tanker that carried 24,170 gallons of the hazardous material. Still, CSX paid over $3.5 million to Maryville residents and others affected by the incident.

Minot, North Dakota, 2002

In the early morning hours of 2002 in Minot, North Dakota, 31 cars of a Canadian Pacific train derailed. Five of those tankers were carrying anhydrous ammonia. The tankers ruptured, unleashing a cloud of toxic gas over the city. One person was killed, and 11 others were seriously injured. Three hundred twenty-two others reported minor injuries. Response to the accident was disorganized, with local emergency managers failing to activate the city's Emergency Alert System and the public siren system also failing during the incident.

The NTSB did not blame the train's crew but determined Canadian Pacific to have been ineffective with inspection and maintenance procedures. The NTSB discovered evidence that the joint bars used to connect track sections together had small fatigue cracks that should have been found and addressed, but Canadian Pacific crews were only using visual inspections, which would not have revealed the issue. In the end, the town's residents were offered $250 each for compensation for the exposure.

East Palestine, Ohio, 2023

Unsurprisingly, the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, is included in this list, not because of injuries or fatalities but because of the sheer amount of unusual toxic chemicals released into the environment, including the air, water, and ground. The problem with these chemicals is that we don't know much about their long-term effects and what happens when mixed. This accident involved Norfolk Southern again. 38 cars, 11 carrying hazardous chemicals, derailed, spilling some of the chemicals onto the ground and into waterways. Vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate were among the chemicals disbursed.

Authorities tried to avert an explosion by purposefully detonating the chemical vinyl chloride. The issue is that when vinyl chloride is burned, it releases hydrogen chloride and phosgene, two additional harmful substances, and a host of other toxic compounds.

Residents have reported experiencing headaches, dizziness, and breathing problems. More concerning is that the scientific community doesn't know what levels of exposure to these chemicals are "safe," and sensors meant to monitor levels aren't very effective.

While the NTSB is still busy investigating the cause of the accident, early indicators point to a wheel failure. However, Norfolk Southern and other railroads have systematically cut their workforce, closed rail yards used for inspection, and continue to lobby against rules and oversight that would make operations safer—all while reporting record profits over the last four years.

Morgan and Morgan, Toxic Chemical Exposure Lawyers

While some people may work in industries that expose them to toxic chemicals, they are usually protected because of safety measures and highly-regulated protocols. However, innocent residents in towns and cities with toxic chemicals transported through them have no such access to equipment when disaster strikes. The consequences of toxic chemical exposure can be devastating. Victims should be able to get compensation for the health issues that arise, as well as payment for any personal property that is rendered unsafe, as well as loss of income.

While we can't erase the harm you've experienced because a company cares more about profits than public safety, we can hold them accountable. We understand how important it is for you to receive the quality healthcare you need and that your family is provided with adequate means if you're unable to work. We can fight to ensure that happens by holding greedy corporations accountable for their negligent business conduct.

You have legal options to gain compensation, and we have the experience it takes to win. In fact, Morgan and Morgan recovered $1.8 billion for Porter Ranch residents who suffered health problems after the SoCalGas facility leaked tremendous amounts of methane gas containing mercaptans into the community. While methane isn't considered a toxic chemical, mercaptans cause short-term health effects ranging from nosebleeds to neurological ailments.

Exposure to toxic chemicals may take years to turn into illness. Still, when you come down with some rare form of cancer or another disease, the company responsible for your toxic chemical exposure will argue your sickness was caused by something else. Here is how Morgan and Morgan can help you win against big railroad companies that are responsible for your toxic chemical exposure:

  • Compile evidence that you were exposed to toxic chemicals through the soil, groundwater, air samples, and other investigative techniques.
  • Prove that you could not avoid or were unaware of your exposure to the toxic chemical.
  • Demonstrate that you were not responsible for the accident that led to your exposure.
  • Prove the railroad, chemical company, or parts manufacturer is liable to pay for your injuries.

When the bad decisions of a railroad company cause you, or a loved one harm, we're here to help. While taking on a powerful railroad company is challenging, we're fearless in doing it. We have over 1,000 battle-tested trial lawyers across the country waiting to fight for you. We empower our lawyers with access to resources and support staff to rival any railroad lawyer team whose goal will be to keep you from getting what you deserve.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We believe you deserve the best healthcare and the maximum compensation possible for your losses.  

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