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Freight train carrying ethanol derails, spewing flames

Posted Jul. 12, 2012 / Posted by: Michal Rosenoer

On Wednesday a freight train carrying ethanol derailed in Columbus, Ohio, putting hundreds of residents within range of blazing fires and facing the risk of water contamination. In response, the National Transportation and Safety Board evacuated over 30 homes and advised residents in the area to stay indoors.

The train derailed in the early hours Wednesday morning. Officials estimate that 11 to 13 cars came off the track, causing direct injuries to at least two people. Massive fires started almost immediately following the derailment. Officials decided to let the fire burn itself out instead of trying to extinguish it.

"I saw flames, and then I heard a loud sound, like a boom, and saw the flames shoot higher," resident Joel Priester said. "It looked like the sun exploded" (Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times, July 11).

The accident highlighted that despite 30 years of use in motor fuel, the EPA still doesn’t have clear guidelines for cleaning up ethanol spills. Because ethanol is more corrosive and explosive than gasoline it’s being shipped around the country in freight cars and on highways because it can crack infrastructure used for normal motor fuel. Even in new infrastructure, however, ethanol has proved to corrode metals and lead to cracked, leaky storage tanks. If ethanol leeches into the ground, it will poison water, contaminate soil, and yes, burn.

On the same day as the spill, a gas station in Lawrence, Kansas decided to be the first seller of E15, a new motor fuel that contains 15 percent ethanol. Currently, most gasoline in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol, so this new fuel represents a 50 percent increase over the current norm.

We already have definitive evidence that corn ethanol is polluting our climate, air, water, and soil. Spills like these only serve to drive home the danger of the fuel. The government shouldn’t be mandating the use of corn ethanol or expanding its market when it poses such hazardous risks to the public and the environment.

Check out our new fact sheet on E15 to learn more about this new fuel and what it means for the environment, public health and consumers.

See our factsheet on the trouble with corn ethanol as a refresher on the issue more generally.

Understanding E15 (Factsheet)

A guide to the risks posed by using ethanol in motor fuel

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