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Crude Oil Spill Disaster Classes Offered As Communities See Increased Oil Train Use

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A year ago Friday, an oil train from North Dakota derailed under Seattle’s busy Magnolia Bridge during the height of the morning commute.

No one was hurt and nothing burned in that accident but the scare has prompted changes to the emergency response to a similar accident should one occur. The reason? As many as two thousand black oil tanker cars now roll through Seattle each week, carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Six such trains have derailed since February in the U.S., rupturing tank cars and spilling oil that polluted waterways and burned for days. With that traffic increasing, governments know they have to be prepared for the worst.

For example, authorities now train communities on how to handle accidents with Bakken crude as more of the highly volatile mix is transported through the Pacific Northwest.

“Everybody that makes up the city - believe  it or not - is going to have a role to play," said John Malool, who teaches occupational safety at Rutgers University in New Jersey

Malool  also is the fire chief in his hometown of Ridgefield Park, outside New York City. He’ll be teaching classes next week in Seattle and  Everett on how communities can prepare for oil train accidents.

“It’s not just the fire department that has a critical role here, it’s the entire city government.”

Malool said in the event of a large-scale oil fire, public works trucks may need to bring in sand bags, and utilities water…police would be cordoning off areas, the health department monitoring air quality and schools serving as evacuation zones. He says a striking aspect in Seattle is how close the train tracks run near the sports stadiums.

“And when you look at what goes through the city, I’m amazed at  how close by. The oil is just one of the many different hazardous materials that the fire department has to be concerned with.”

His classes will include specific information on the characteristics of Bakken crude and what materials are needed to clean it up if there’s an accident.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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