Emergency Responders Prepare for Ethanol Trains to Hit the Tracks Next Year; See Potential Dangers

Posted by Noelle Swan

Photo Credit: Rachel Krupsky

Soon, 60-car long tanker trains full of ethanol will make biweekly runs past Fitchburg, around Walden Pond, through Boston, and up the North Shore to Global Petroleum Corp’s Revere blending station. Global hopes that the new rail transport will prove more cost effective and ultimately safer than the tanker trucks that are used today. Critics fear that the sheer volume of fuel in a single train presents excessive risk of potential spill following a train derailment. State and local officials have already begun preparations to deal with such a possibility, well before the trains begin their runs in 2012.

Fire is the most immediate concern following an ethanol spill. Essentially an alcohol, ethanol is extremely flammable, even when significantly diluted by water. That means that traditional fire hoses filled with water can spread the fire rather than fight it. Local fire departments are undergoing specialized training to teach new and seasoned firefighters alike how to fight an ethanol fire effectively. Fire stations across the state are cataloging their stores of specialized alcohol resistant foam to coordinate efforts, should spilled ethanol ignite.

Firefighters are not the only ones readying themselves for the worst. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection released a preliminary guide to ethanol spills last July. The final report is currently in the process of internal review. The assessment identifies potential environmental impacts and response options for a variety of scenarios. The report considers risks to specific landscapes—from waterways to meadows, even to ditches. Suggested responses consider not only the location of a spill, but several other factors, including temperature and wind direction. If the conditions are just right, a controlled burning may be the safest course of action. In other instances, pooled liquid can be removed with a vacuum, or it may need to be contained until it can evaporate and degrade naturally.

The DEP expects that its compilation of impacts and responses will have benefits beyond state lines. “This is going to be very well received by other emergency responders in other states,” predicts Ed Coletta, the Acting Director of Public Affairs for the Mass DEP. These recommendations are likely to be used to inform state officials and train emergency personnel around the country.


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Posted by Noelle Swan on Sep 14 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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