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Train derailment spills diesel into New River in southern West Virginia

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A train derailment in southern West Virginia on March 8 follows national reaction of the tragic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3.

The train derailment in West Virginia was next to the New River Gorge National Park and spilled diesel fuel into the New River, one the continent’s oldest rivers.

The W.Va. train derailment injured three workers and caused parts of the train to catch on fire. CSX quickly claimed “the incident pose(s) no danger to the public.”

The Federal Rail Administration and the WV Emergency Management are monitoring the situation.

According to CSX, no hazardous materials were being transported on the train. WV American Water determined no drinking water advisory is necessary for customers.

Diesel, a product of crude oil, has a significant impact on bodies of fresh water and can impact human health and other parts of the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said oil hangs onto plants and can contaminate animals that eat the plants. Oil can also get trapped within rocks under water and disrupt the local ecology.

According to W.V. Emergency Management, CSX is responsible for cleaning up the spill and has begun the process.

“Disasters like this are no shock to West Virginians, and neither are attempts by companies to get out of paying for clean-up and making sure people and the environment are safe,” Maury Johnson, West Virginia resident and Executive Committee member of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition (POWHR), said. “We have heard from rail workers that railroad companies are cutting staff and not paying enough attention to safety measures as they should be. We demand CSX follow through on their duty to pay for and complete the clean-up of the New River. The river is core to our health, recreation, and culture. We will ensure it is protected and we will ensure that West Virginia doesn’t continue to be the target of sloppy companies and their sloppy projects — including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

A bill to allow the Public Service Commission (PSC) to fine railroads was considered by West Virginia, but was unsuccessful. The PSC endorsed the bill and received bipartisan support. PSC Chairwoman Lane said the Commission recorded more than 600 violations last year but did not have the jurisdiction to endorse fines.

“For many ‘regulation’ is a dirty word, but when incidents like this occur, it underscores the importance of regulation as a preventative tool. Cut backs on staffing, extending rail cars to over two miles long, poor quality containment tanks, all of these things and more can have devastating consequences. If the New River had been further compromised, the effects would’ve been catastrophic — not only on the ecology, but the habitability of the area, to our tourism and certainly to many folks living downstream. Our Future West Virginia will not be complicit by remaining silent. We continue to speak to the policies and regulations necessary to protect the air, land, waters and moreover the people,” Kathy Ferguson, Interim Executive Director, Our Future West Virginia, said.

As reported by MSN today, cleanup of the toxic chemical spill in East Palestine continues.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.