Oil trains present unacceptable health risks
As a follow-up to an article in the Oct. 2 Clackamas Review about Rep. Karin Power's concern over the number of weekly oil trains rolling through Milwaukie, we at Clackamas Climate Action Coalition (CCAC) would like to echo her concerns and underscore the potentially devastating health and environmental risk these trains expose our communities and our local ecosystems to every time they roll through.
Along these tracks are neighborhoods, schools, adult foster care and assisted living facilities, and literally thousands of businesses, homes and apartments. As the area grows and develops, increasingly more humans are at risk. Additionally, the trains cut through the Three Creeks Natural Area and Minthorne Springs Wetlands. These critical habitats are home to a variety of birds, reptiles, insects, mammals and native plant life. There are hiking trails, wetlands and creeks, and a long stretch of the widely used Springwater Corridor bike path, relied upon by many as a main transportation arterial.
The bottom line is we don't know what type of oil is in these tanks, and we do not have adequate information to plan for, or proper training to deal with a spill or a disaster. The biggest concern is a type of crude oil called dilbit, or diluted bitumen, which includes extremely toxic benzene. Spills involving this type of crude (See Kalamazoo River, 2010) are especially damaging to the environment and human health. Even short-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer and respiratory and neurological diseases.
History shows safety-response measures are not up to the task. Over the past 50 years there have been thousands of oil spills, and even small spills can have major environmental and economic harm. Moreover, there are profound economic implications. Overnight, a spill can foul neighborhoods, displace hundreds of families, render entire neighborhoods worthless and cost billions of dollars to clean up. On top of that, oil companies have a notoriously bad track record of cleaning up their messes. Much of the cost of clean up becomes a burden for the taxpaying public. (Exxon still owes $100 million to the state of Alaska for the cleanup of the Valdez spill in 1989.)
We need a plan in the event of an oil spill due to train or track malfunction, unforeseeable accidents or even a terrorist attack. We need training and a community-preparedness plan in the event of an accident. Most importantly, we need transparency on the types of crude being transported, so the proper responses can be executed.
We seek documented proof that the companies responsible would make full restitution for any damage from a spill or leakage from the trains. We also strongly urge and support any measures that can be taken to prevent the passage of toxic materials through the county.
Ultimately, CCAC believes that due to climate-change issues that are putting our people, ecosystems and the planet at risk for the short-term gain of oil companies should no longer be acceptable. We believe that the county, state and nation need to move toward a 100% renewable future ASAP so that we all have a livable future.
Linda Blue and Sally DiSipio are members of the Clackamas Climate Action Coalition.
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