The National Transportation Safety Board has a team in place in Lynchburg, trying to determine the cause and the environmental impact of yesterday’s CSX train derailment downtown that plunged three oil-carrying tanker cars into the James River and the resulting massive fire.
The NTSB says the on-scene fact-finding mission could take between several days to several weeks. Chief Investigator Jim Southworth says many organizations are involved in what he calls a well-orchestrated industrial ballet.
Lynchburg officials estimate about 50,000 gallons of crude oil were missing from the tankers, but it still isn’t clear how much burned in the fire, and how much spilled into the water. City officials have said residents’ drinking water is not affected….but officials in Richmond, which is downstream, switched to an alternate water supply. Noone was injured and most businesses have re-opened in the downtown area except for the Depot Grille and Amazement Square. Traffic along Jefferson Street is restricted.
It could be some days before contaminated water flows by Richmond, Officials there say heavy rain is diluting any pollution and will push it past quickly, but they’re monitoring the water and will switch the city to clean, stored supplies if necessary.
Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert will also be testing and watching for problems with fish and wildlife. He hopes this accident leads to serious talk about transporting oil and chemicals along the nation’s waterways.
“We need to have a bigger discussion, not just in Lynchburg, not just in Virginia but probably worldwide as to how safe is it to be transporting oil and other chemicals and storing them right next to our rivers.”
He says Lynchburg dodged a bullet, since it does rely on the river for drinking water when its reservoir runs low, and the intake point on the James was just a few feet away from where the oil spill occurred.