Iowa environmental groups are calling on lawmakers for better legislation and regulation of the railroad industry after a Union Pacific freight train hauling ethanol derailed near the town of Graettinger, Iowa, March 10.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate the derailment, which caused some of the train’s ethanol-laden cars to topple into the Jack Creek in the northern part of the state. Fifteen of the cars caught fire and some of them continued to burn two days after the 1 a.m. crash.
The derailment and fire also destroyed a bridge running over the creek. Authorities say the crash spilled more than 1,600 gallons of highly flammable ethanol into the creek, which runs through several miles of Iowa farmland.
“I know some people like to say ‘we prefer trains over pipelines or pipes over trains,’ but the bottom line is neither way is a good way when transporting something so dangerous. Had that derailment happened in a town and that fireball happened right on Main Street, that would have been catastrophic,” Ed Fallon, Executive Director of Bold Iowa, told WHOTV Channel 13 Des Moines.
Mr. Fallon told WHOTV that the government needs to focus more on harnessing wind and solar energy to offset fossil fuel usage.
“The technology keeps getting better. We are there and we can do it, but it’s just the political will that’s missing,” he said.
The extent of the environmental damage caused by the ethanol spill is uncertain, but officials indicated they expected concentrations of ethanol to be too low to be toxic to fish.
NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt said in a press conference the railroad industry needs to move faster on raising standards for transporting ethanol by rail. Oil-train derailments have led to tougher requirements for tanker cars hauling crude, but no progress has been made with ethanol, Mr. Sumwalt said.
“… People have forgotten about the potential hazard of transporting ethanol using these cars,” Mr. Sumwalt said. “We would like to see the shippers accelerate their schedule to get these legacy DOT-111 tank cars out of service when transporting flammable liquids — specifically crude oil and ethanol,” he said, referring to the older tank cars.