Chesapeake PSR

Baltimore considers a bill to assess oil train risks

Toxics and HealthLydia SullivanComment

Chesapeake PSR sent a letter in support of a Baltimore City Council bill requiring the city to assess the risks of oil train shipments through heavily populated areas. The Transport of Crude Oil by Rail bill, 06-0621, would require the Baltimore City Health Department "to conduct a health impacts assessment and a risk assessment of the transport of crude oil by rail." 

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for November 1 at 10:05 a.m. 

In a letter to Health Department Commissioner Leana Wen, MD, Chesapeake PSR President Gwen DuBois, MD, MPH, asked that the Health Department endorse the bill. "This is an important safety bill for the people of Baltimore... This dangerous cargo is shipped through densely populated Baltimore where it has been estimated that 165,000 people live within one mile of the route," she said. Millions of gallons of oil are shipped in close proximity to Baltimore neighborhoods, stadiums, tourist attractions, hospitals, schools and waterways. One train can carry 1-3 million gallons of oil. 

In 2012, a runaway oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec exploded and killed 47 people in a town of 6,000. Subsequently, Canada banned the easily punctured rail cars used in the explosion; the U.S. still permits use of that type of rail car. "As a more densely populated urban center, any accident in Baltimore could have much higher death and injury tolls to residents and first responders," said Dr. DuBois.

Dr. DuBois raised concerns about damage to Baltimore's infrastructure: "In addition to terrible morbidity and mortality, the damage to Baltimore's infrastructure could be immense. If the spill is over waterways, the damage to clean water and habitat may be catastrophic. The longer the delay in response time, especially if water contamination is involved, the closer to impossible the cleanup will be. Though we have fire departments with emergency plans in cities like Baltimore, it is easy to see how local personnel can quickly be overwhelmed with the magnitude of the calamity."

If you are a health professional and would like to testify at the November 1 public hearing, please contact Chesapeake PSR Executive Director Tim Whitehouse at twhitehouse@psr.org.

Read the full letter here. Read Dr. DuBois's November 2 testimony to the Baltimore City Council.

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