Railroads do not let HAZMAT teams know what is on train

tanker, where most leaks occur, said Binghamton Asst. Fire Chief Richard Allen Jr., who is also the training instructor for the department. He noted it would be extremely uncommon to have more than one rail car leaking from their valves. “If you end up with a rupture on the side of the tank itself, which is extremely hard to do … you’re probably not going to stop that type of leak,” Allen said.

The HAZMAT team would make evacuation a top priority and attempt to stop or slow the leak with other equipment, he said. They have airbags and material to wrap around a train car with a leak on the side.

What about the case of a chemical inferno? “Usually with types of things like that, unfortunately, the reality is a lot of times you just have to stand back and let the product just burn off,” Allen said. ” … Sometimes the fire actually helps detoxify the chemical.”

Exactly what chemical is leaking is extremely important. It is why Chemung County’s team has a chemical hazard intervention team, comprised of chemists from local industries. “They advise us how to respond to different chemicals,” Masia said. Broome’s team also has members from Binghamton University and former IBM workers with knowledge on the subject.

Because the response to each chemical is different, and the wrong response can exacerbate the situation, Allen said teams could benefit from newly developed equipment that helps HAZMAT teams distinguish what they’re dealing with. With a price tag of $40,000, the equipment is cost-prohibitive for most departments.


HAZMAT crews can determine the contents of rail cars labeled with a placard, but Allen noted the possibility exists that the train crew could die or placards could be hidden or fall off in a serious disaster. “I think it’d be something that would be great, but I think it’s something that neither (the city) or the county can afford,” Allen said.

This is exactly why it is so important for local emergency workers to be kept in the loop as to what is going through the county, Chellis said.

A 2 June derailment has in Broome County has made the county’s emergency planning committee consider more closely what is coming through the rails on a daily basis. Chellis said in the three years he has been emergency manager, the committee has not requested a log of the products that are being brought through on the rails and the approximate frequency, but he is working on making requests to Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific, and New York Susquehanna & Western Railway.

The logs could help the city and county HAZMAT teams assess the equipment necessary and use Homeland Security funds to better prepare for an emergency, Chellis said.

If we can get a list of the products they’re bringing through, and we can get a list of the approximate frequency, we can review that, compare it to our planning, look at our capabilities of our HAZMAT teams, and see whether there’s any additional resources that they need,” Chellis said. “This stuff does have to get moved, obviously. But we certainly think the railroad should be proactive in keeping us informed.”