“A High Potential for Catastrophe”: PSR Calls for Better Government Assessment of Public Health and Safety Risks Associated with Transporting LNG by Rail July 8, 2019


Press Contacts:
Olivia Alperstein, Media Relations Manager, (202) 587-5232
Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program Director, (202) 587-5225

Washington, D.C.—The  proposed Special Permit SP 20534 would allow Energy Transport Solutions, LLC to transport ‘‘Methane, Refrigerated Liquid’’ (UN1972), commonly known as liquefied natural gas (LNG), by  rail tank cars via unit train or manifest train service.

As an organization that mobilizes medical and health professionals on environmental hazards to health, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is gravely concerned about the severe potential fire, health and safety risks to communities with LNG transport by train. Sadly, we don’t have to imagine what LNG train derailments, fires, explosions, and other hazards could look like. Given recent disastrous events, it is striking that there is such a paucity of data and analysis provided on health and safety concerns in the Environmental Assessment Special associated with the Special Permit.

Recent oil train derailments that have impacted Lac Megantic, Quebec, Mosier, Oregon, and over a dozen other communities show that rail-related accidents can and do lead to health hazards, public safety risks, environmental damage, and even fatalities.

In the case of an LNG train derailment and release of LNG, the LNG would likely return to vapor form, quickly forming a vapor cloud that could ignite and cause an intense fire, potentially affecting people, property, and natural resources. If the LNG failed to ignite initially, the unignited LNG vapor cloud could move over a large distance, find an ignition source, and burn back to the point of the LNG release. The consequences could be deadly.

“If enacted, this proposal would carry a high potential for catastrophe,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program Director at Physicians for Social Responsibility. “A derailment, a malfunction or a terrorist attack could result in release of LNG, which could lead to an explosion and a fire that first responders could probably not control. The risk of severe harm, including loss of life, is too high.”

“We have seen trains carrying crude oil derail and go up in flames.  The Lac-Megantic, Quebec oil-by-train disaster burned for four days and left 47 people dead. Transporting liquefied methane– which we value precisely because it burns so intensely– by rail, could risk accidental release and catastrophic fire. Our government owes it to the public to better assess the risks to public health and safety before approving this Special Permit to transport LNG by rail,” she added.

The comment period for the Environmental Assessment is currently set to close on July 8.  Given the potential for grave impacts on human health potentially associated with LNG transport by rail, PSR and other leading organizations have requested an extension of the comment period to 90 days so that we and other interested parties can gather the information necessary for informed comments and submit our comments in a timely fashion.


About Physicians for Social Responsibility

PSR is a nonprofit organization representing medical and health professionals and concerned citizens, with approximately 40,000 members and supporters and with chapters in major cities and medical schools throughout the United States. PSR has been working for more than 55 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both present and future generations. Learn more at www.psr.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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