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May 21, 2014
Officials in Albany County acknowledge that trains carrying crude oil pose a significant risk. And they also admit that, depending on the nature of any accident, there’s little they can do.
“It would be almost unrealistic to think that we could fight a 100 tank car filled with oil to fight that fire, it’s not gonna happen, and nor do I think that any municipality in the country can fight that.”
Along with city officials from the police and fire departments, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple spoke quite bluntly about the county’s limited abilities to handle a train fire. He cited limited funding for resources like firefighting foam or upgrades to first responder radio systems that would enable communication with other counties, should additional help be needed in the event of disaster.
As for now, Sheriff Apple says the county can handle a small accident.
“We have a plan set up for one car, two cars, three cars, anything over four to six cars we’re not gonna be able to fight," says Apple. "It’s gonna be a matter of listen, let's evacuate, let’s stabilize, let’s try to protect property at that point and let it burn.”
And letting it burn is the same approach officials in Lynchburg, Virginia took after 15 cars of an oil train derailed and ignited on April 30.
While an explosion or fire remained the subject of most attention at this Common Council meeting, the DEC was also on hand to discuss issues around air quality around the crude oil trains.
Albany County Health Commissioner James Crucetti says they’re monitoring air quality at numerous locations around the Port of Albany.
“We’re taking a comprehensive approach, looking at any potential emission in the heating or oil process from beginning to the end trying to access emissions at different control points.”
The commission’s looking at over 40 different volatile organic chemicals including the cancer causing benzene.
Should an accident occur, Crucetti says the Health Department will be on hand to assist in public safety over smoke or released vapors.
Residents like Charlene Benton, President of the Ezra Prentice Houses tenants association say they still want more through information about protecting themselves and preventing an accident.
“Um do I feel any safer? Not really. I mean, um I feel that their making some progress in trying to do the air monitoring and all that but it doesn’t present us with the safety.”
Above all, Albany Sheriff Apple says they’re not trying to create mass hysteria by discussing how a potential train fire would be handled.
“We’re not supporting the trains, we’re not fighting against the trains, we’re stuck with the trains.”