GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Health and environmental concerns are growing in East Palestine, Ohio.
Toxic fumes were released into the air after a train went off the tracks last week. The derailment prompted FOX8 to ask local leaders what chemicals are transported through the Piedmont Triad.
There are tens of thousands of chemicals being transported through Guilford County on railways and roadways.
Greensboro is one of the few cities in our state with a HAZMAT team. We talked with a member of that team Tuesday about what the response would look like here.
“The safety track record of the rail industry is huge,” said Bryan Vickery, the special operations assistant chief for the Greensboro Fire Department. “It always is good to plan in case these things do happen in our community and in the city of Greensboro.”
Huge plumes of black smoke filled the sky after 50 derailed train cars went up in flames in Ohio last week. Hundreds of people were forced out of their homes. Of the cars that went off the track, 10 were carrying hazardous materials. It’s a toxic disaster, which could’ve happened anywhere.
“I’ve been on the hazard materials team since ’99,” Vickery said. “We have seen a handful of train derailments.”
That includes back in 2019 when a train carrying tens of thousands of gallons of ethanol derailed in Greensboro. None of the tankers leaked, and no one got hurt.
“We’ve been very lucky,” Vickery said.
Trains moving throughout the state and in Greensboro are carrying chemicals. Vickery is trained to deal with them. He has access to a website where, by law, companies in North Carolina are required to upload the types of chemicals they have and the how much of them.
“If the company doesn’t have that chemical that’s inside the state of North Carolina, and they may be transporting that product through the state, we’ll do a commodity study of rail and of highway to see what is traveling to the state of North Carolina,” he said.
Each of the trains or trucks has a placard on all four sides, letting us know what it’s carrying.
“What classification it falls into, whether it’s a combustible, it’s flammable liquid, whether it’s a poisonous gas,” said Alton Hanes, the director of Davidson County Emergency Services.
Hanes works closely with Greensboro’s HAZMAT team.
“We have a lot of commerce travel through Davidson County…at some point in time, we’re going to encounter accidents that’s going to occur with hazards,” Hanes said.
Their job is to make sure if it does happen, the response is quick.
“It doesn’t matter what incident it is. We’re always evaluating that incident after we come back and looking at it and seeing how can we have done better and prepare for the next one,” Vickery said.
The HAZMAT team also works directly with manufacturing companies.
If they’re going to transport a new chemical, the team will come in and train to learn about the chemical and figure out how to best respond should an accident happen.