News10NBC Investigates: Train trouble. What happens if a train derails locally? 

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Following the train disaster in Ohio, many of you are wondering what protocols are in place locally if a toxic train was to go off the tracks. 

Jennifer Schneider, PhD, is currently a Professor of Risk and Hazardous Materials at RIT. For decades she trained hazmat teams across the country, that includes those who responded to a derailment in Charlotte back in 2001. A train headed for Kodak derailed and two tankers containing chemicals used in making film leaked, caught fire and heavily damaged two homes.

Hazmat teams are typically called in through 911 dispatch. The first question for any team member responding to a derailment.

“Do I have a possibility for a fire? An explosion? A plume that would make me concerned? So, you just kind of have a running checklist in your head of things to work through as you’re getting through the process to figure out how you literally attack it,” Schneider explains.

On-sight air monitoring is also immediate not just for the safety of the people who live in the area, but for the first responders who are working to get the situation under control.

“Any hazmat team is going to do a lot of air-monitoring, figure out where any plumes might go,” Schneider says.

The plume and its after effects has been a topic of much discussion in communities surrounding the derailment site in Ohio and beyond.

“Frankly, some of the chemicals that result from that burn are slow degradation chemicals. It’s going to take them a while to actually break apart. But the thing that we have on our side is water in the atmosphere, that’s going to help that and we’re going to have an ability to continuously monitor,” Schneider explains. 

In a statement, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation tells News10NBC, “DEC takes impacts on state air quality very seriously, including those that occur outside of New York State with the potential for impacts within state borders. DEC is coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor any potential impacts to New York State from the derailment and fire in Ohio, which was approximately 90 miles south-southwest of New York’s border with Pennsylvania. No human health impacts have been reported at this time.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health says, “If New Yorkers have health-related questions concerning impacts from air pollutants from the Ohio train derailment and fire, they can call NYS Department of Health, Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment (BTSA) (518-402-7800), leave a message and the call will be returned to them, or they can email NYS DOH also has an odor fact sheet and one on smoke/fires as well.”