GOGAMA, Ont. – Another train derailment in northern Ontario has added new fuel to the ongoing debate over whether rail is a safe way of transporting crude oil.
First Nations and environmentalists are among those expressing alarm over Saturday’s derailment of a CN Rail train that causing numerous tank cars carrying crude oil to catch fire and spill into a local river system.
CN said Sunday there were 94 cars on the train, all carrying Alberta crude to Eastern Canada when approximately 30 of them derailed near Gogama, Ont, about 80 km south of Timmins. Some of the cars caught fire and some crude entered the Mattagami River System.
Chief Walter Naveau of the Mattagami First Nation says his community does not feel safe after the third CN derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month. There are concerns over the effects of smoke inhalation and environmental damage, he said.
“People in the community were feeling the affects of the toxins in the air — respiratory problems, they could feel it in their chests and their breathing,” Naveau said in a phone interview.
CN said Sunday residents will likely see smoke rising from the derailment site but that this poses no threat to people or the environment.
“They may say those things but why should I trust them?” asked Naveau, adding his community is also concerned that the river also leads into the community’s main spawning grounds for fish, in addition to habitats for other wildlife.
CN said Sunday it’s taken measures to contain any spilled oil and will work to stop it from spreading into the local river system.
“Anywhere you’re going to see a major spill of oil and chemicals onto the ground you’re going to see permanent contamination of the ecosystem nearby,” said Adam Scott, Climate and Energy Program Manager for Environmental Defence.
“They almost never are able to clean up all of the oil released in a spill like this and it’s much worse even when there’s a direct spill into a river because the oil gets moved down the river and the chemicals can spread.”
Last month a CN derailment occurred in the same area, when 29 cars loaded with crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caused a fire.
The Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to Saturday’s spill, which they say is about 37 kilometres from the location of last month’s derailment, but have not been able to reach the site yet as a fire is still burning.
CN said the cars in Saturday’s derailment met the newer, improved standard, which have enhanced shielding and harder steel.
The TSB said last month the Class 111 tank cars involved in that derailment also met the upgraded standards, but it says the cars still “performed similarly” to those involved in the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., two years ago, which predated the changes.
The agency said last month’s incident “demonstrates the inadequacy” of the new standards and is urging Transport Canada to quickly beef up protection standards.
Transport Canada says it is currently working with the U.S. to develop a next generation standard of tank car for transporting flammable liquids that they say would be “more robust” than the current standards.
Glenn Thibeault, the member of the Ontario legislature who represents the area, said Saturday’s accident is another reason the federal government must do more to strengthen rail safety regulations.
“The cars involved in this incident are new models, compliant with the latest federal regulations, yet they still failed to prevent this incident.”
Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray said in a statement that the derailment is “very concerning” and that he will be raising the matter with his federal counterpart Lisa Raitt and the railways.
“It’s basically guaranteed to happen again, this is not an isolated incident we seen several of these kinds of derailments a month now,” said Scott. “So until something dramatic is done, we’re going to see this continuing over and over again.”