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Scars Remain in Graniteville, SC, A Decade After Norfolk Southern Chlorine Derailment

When railroad accidents involving dangerous or explosive substances occur in communities, the effects can often be long-lasting and tragic.

A case in point is the incident in Graniteville in South Carolina. It has now been more than 10 years since a train carrying chlorine derailed in the small community on Jan. 6, 2005, but the scars are still present below the surface. A study carried out in 2015, found

I represented some of those families back in 2005 and know the problems they are going through.

The Graniteville accident was one of the worst railroad accidents in the US in recent years. On Jan. 6, 2005, a Norfolk Southern freight train crashed into a parked train. It left the tracks and poured 60 tons of chlorine gas into the air. Nine people died as a result.

This accident highlighted the dangerous vulnerability of tanker cars on the railroad. During the derailment, one of the tank cars ended up  punctured and released toxic chlorine gas. Nine people died as a result of exposure to the chlorine, and hundreds of people sought medical care due to respiratory distress.

The air pollution led to the evacuation of more than 5,000 people living and working within a mile of the accident. A cloud of the chlorine ended up in Horse Creek and its tributaries and was absorbed into the water, killing hundreds of fish. There was also a diesel fuel leak into Horse Creek.

In the wake of the accident, Norfolk Southern Railway Company agreed to pay almost $4 million to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and hazardous materials laws.

Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits were brought after this devastating crash. Norfolk Southern Corporation fired the railroad crew accused in litigation of failing to flip a switch that would have prevented the accident.

On the 10th anniversary of the disaster, The Charlotte Observer reported that Graniteville is rebounding economically with several new industries in the town but, “the physical and emotional pain” of the accident lingers.

Some people in the town still suffer from a decreased lung function, believed to be the result of breathing large amounts of chlorine released during the wreck.

Research by Tulane University and the University of South Carolina, found textile mill workers who were exposed to the chemical are having more trouble breathing today than mill workers who were not exposed.

In the years since the Graniteville accident, we have seen numerous examples of tanker cars being punctured during derailments. In 2013, an even more serious accident at Lac-Megantic in Canada highlighted the weakness of tank cars.

In Quebec, a runaway train exploded in a small community, causing an inferno that claimed 42 lives.  A report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada revealed how the Class 111 tank cars suffered multiple ruptures. Despite the fact these ageing cars are obviously flawed, it has taken a long time to replace the DOT-111 and subsequent accidents with newer cars have called the adequacy of the replacement into question.

I hope we never see a disaster like the one in Graniteville again. However, a spate of recent accidents raises alarming questions for communities by railroads. If you have been injured by a railroad accident, call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 757.997.6254.

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