Why Is So Much Hazardous Material Being Transported by Railway?

Why Is So Much Hazardous Material Being Transported by Railway?

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Why Is So Much Hazardous Material Being Transported by Railway?

In February 2023, there was a well-publicized train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Nearly every major media source in the country published the news that a Norfolk Southern train had exploded during a derailment.

The news was particularly concerning because the train was carrying several types of hazardous chemicals. And due to the derailment, chemicals carried by the train cars were released into the air and groundwater, potentially creating an environmental nightmare.

This incident has brought a lot of attention to railways in the United States and what types of cargo trains carry. It has many people asking, “Why is so much hazardous material being transported by railway, and what can be done if that hazardous material causes harm to people living near train tracks?”

As for the latter question, if you or a family member has been harmed by hazardous materials carried by train, you could be eligible for compensation from the train company. 

Contact Morgan & Morgan today to schedule a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer who will answer all of your questions.

Transportation by Railway Is Considered to Be Safer Than Other Options

The reason you see so many news stories about train derailments is that they are newsworthy events. Train derailments are relatively rare, especially when compared to incidents in other types of transportation. Trucks, planes, and cargo ships are all more likely than trains to spill their contents.

Many types of hazardous materials can only be transported long distances by train because train travel is the safest way to move them. This is partially due to the expected impact if an incident does occur.

Planes, for example, could potentially crash almost anywhere, and the dispersal of a dangerous chemical into the air could cover large swaths of area. Even though plane incidents are uncommon, the potential impact of a chemical being released could be severe.

Cargo ship spills can similarly result in massive environmental damage when a dangerous chemical is released into open water. This is particularly concerning if the water is fresh and used for drinking.

The impact of a single truck accident is usually the least threatening. However, trucks are significantly more likely to crash than trains. This is why hazardous material spills from trucks resulted in more deaths than spills from trains in the U.S. from 1994 to 2005.

The Federal Government Takes This Seriously

If you have ever driven through a tunnel, you may have noticed large signs advising you that it is illegal to transport dangerous substances through that passageway. You will find similar signs, if you know where to look, in airports and at boat docks.

The federal government is wary about how dangerous materials are transported, and it has taken several measures to protect the public. The warning signs are just one part of that care.

If a transportation company is caught violating the regulations regarding hazardous materials, it will usually face serious consequences. For example, the state of Pennsylvania has announced criminal charges against Norfolk Southern for the train derailment. And any violation almost always ends with fines and licenses being stripped.

Civil Law Also Takes Safety Violations Seriously

The government isn’t the only one that can act if a transportation company harms people by violating safety laws. Individuals also have the right to file a lawsuit to redress the harm they suffered. And depending on the circumstances, these lawsuits can result in millions of dollars of compensation.

If you believe you have been harmed by hazardous chemicals that were improperly transported, you should consult with the personal injury attorneys at Morgan and Morgan as quickly as possible. We can help you get money to pay for your medical bills so you can recover swiftly.

Transportation companies have a duty to protect the public from hazardous materials. They agree to follow many regulations to ensure that those materials don’t do harm. If they violate any of those rules, they are liable for any damage.

Our lawyers investigate and find evidence of those violations to prove that a transportation company is responsible for any harm you suffered. Once we identify that liability, we fight zealously to get you as much money as the law allows for your pain and suffering.

How You Might Be Harmed by a Hazardous Material Spill

When hazardous materials spill during a transportation accident, they often cause serious harm. But much of that harm doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes it takes years or decades before people realize that they have been affected by the spill. This has to do with the various ways that a spill can harm people.

Caught in an Explosion

If you’ve seen photos or video of the East Palestine incident, you probably noticed a black plume of smoke rising into the sky. That smoke is the result of a large explosion that took place shortly after the train derailed. Despite the shock value of an explosion, it’s an uncommon way for people to get injured by a hazardous material spill.

Even if the contents of the vehicle explode, it is unlikely that many people will be near it when that happens. Railroad tracks are usually far enough away from inhabited areas that any explosion might set some land on fire, but it is unlikely to catch people.

You almost have to be on the train or involved in the clean-up of the spill to be at risk of direct harm. Fires set by explosions might burn down houses, but you should have plenty of warning before that happens.

Air Contamination

Unfortunately, an explosion can harm you another way, and that is a larger threat. When hazardous chemicals explode, they launch that material into the air. It can enter the air within a cloud of smoke or invisibly.

Regardless, once particles of that hazardous material enter the air, you can inhale them if you are near the location of the spill. Many hazardous materials cause lung damage even if you only inhale small amounts. This type of damage may take years to become apparent.

If the materials stay in the air for any significant length of time, you could be inhaling the hazardous compound for years after a spill. Prolonged exposure can result in lifelong harm that may not be fully treatable.

Water Contamination

The other major threat after a spill is water contamination. This usually happens if a spill is near a waterway. The chemicals enter the water and make it unsafe for drinking or bathing. Depending on the chemical, it could take years to remove the contamination and make the water safe again.

Even worse, a spill doesn’t have to be near a river or lake to contaminate water. Chemicals can seep into the ground and eventually leak into groundwater, which can contaminate wells or even get into municipal water supplies.

Unfortunately, when chemicals compromise groundwater, the effects of that contamination usually last for decades. Water facilities may need millions of dollars of new equipment to safely deal with this type of contamination.

What to Do if You Suspect You Have Been Harmed by a Hazardous Material Spill

If you were caught in an explosion, you will know right away if you have been harmed by a hazardous material spill. However, if you have been affected by water or air contamination, it could take years to recognize this harm. And you likely won’t be certain even when you identify one of the signs.

Since it’s almost impossible to be certain, the first thing you should do is consult with a personal injury lawyer from Morgan & Morgan. Our attorneys have experience identifying harm from these spills and can get you in touch with a doctor who can determine any harm definitively.

If you are suffering any form of long-term side effects, you need to act quickly because the statute of limitations likely started ticking down as soon as you identified the first sign of contamination. Any delay could potentially prevent you from getting the money you deserve.

It’s equally important that you start receiving treatment as quickly as possible. You don’t need approval for medical expenses to receive compensation for them, as long as they are necessary for you to recover. Our law offices will fight to get you money for every bill you have already received.

If you wait to get treatment, your condition might worsen. And some insurance companies will argue that your delay in treatment was the cause for that rather than the spill. By waiting, you could be harming your health and your wallet.

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  • Should I Be Concerned if I Live Near Train Tracks?

    The only concern you should have if you live near train tracks is your hearing. Trains are loud, and if you live close enough to loud sounds for long enough, it could harm your hearing.

    You should not, however, be concerned about a train derailment. They are extremely rare, and many safeguards are in place to prevent accidents. Your danger from living near train tracks is comparable to the danger of living under a flight path. In both cases, you are unlikely to ever be affected by an accident.

  • How Much Hazardous Material Is Transported by Railway Every Year?

    Millions of tons of hazardous materials are safely transported by railway every year, and that has been true for decades. Part of the reason that the East Palestine incident was such a big news story is that nothing similar has happened in decades.

  • What Type of Long-Term Harm Can I Suffer From a Hazardous Material Spill?

    It depends on what the material is. But if a noxious chemical enters the groundwater or air near where you live, you could suffer:

    • A weakened immune system
    • Lung problems
    • Cancer
    • Death

    Nearly every type of hazardous material is transported by train. Trains carry poisonous chemicals, radioactive materials, and even explosive materials at times. When a derailment happens, it’s critical to identify what the train was carrying to determine what long-term effects people might suffer from the incident.

  • Protect Yourself and Your Family From a Hazardous Material Spill by Contacting Morgan and Morgan

    If you’re unlucky enough to live near a spill of hazardous materials, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Even if you aren’t showing signs of harm, you could already be affected. 

    Contact our law offices right away to schedule a free case evaluation and learn about your options for pursuing compensation.

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