When many people think about hazardous materials on rail cars, their first thought involves petroleum products and the raging infernos that explode when cars carrying these materials crash. Few people realize the dangers posed by train accidents involving chlorine, a highly toxic substance that can cause severe injuries and even death with exposure. With a wide range of applications and uses, from water purification to textile manufacturing, companies across the nation require large amounts of chlorine, which are often transported via the North American rail system. In light of the large amounts of chlorine on our rails each day, public awareness of the dangers associated with this chemical is critical.

Chlorine's checkered past


One of the worst chlorine rail disasters occurred in Graniteville, South Carolina in 2005, claiming the lives of nine victims. The accident occurred when a misdirected train collided with another train containing three 90-ton chlorine cars. These cars spilled around 60 tons of liquefied chlorine gas, which rapidly vaporized, requiring the evacuation of about 5,400 people within a one-mile radius of the crash.

Unfortunately, the Graniteville crash is not the only chlorine-related crash in recent memory, as a chlorine tank car in North Platte, Nebraska recently rolled out of control, colliding with a derail device. While the North Platte tanker tipped over, it did not immediately leak. This provided the necessary time for responders to remedy the situation, which took days of work and created innumerable hours of delay train workers. Thankfully, no one died as a result of this accident.

Serious danger

When spilled chlorine escapes, its vaporized gas is deadly. Even in mild doses, this gas can irritate the respiratory system and require hospitalization. In heavy concentrations, the gas reacts with water in the lungs, which can result in death. The environmental damage caused by escaped chlorine gas also represents a major public health concern.

Emergency planning

The best defense against the dangers associated with chlorine gas spills is proper emergency planning and preparation. Specifically, experts recommend the following:

  • Develop and disseminate clear evacuation plans for areas that may be affected by chlorine spills
  • Train first responders to treat common symptoms associated with chlorine exposure
  • Create notification system to identify victims' family members so trauma is not compounded by lack of information

Train accidents involving hazardous materials can leave lasting injuries. For those affected by such disasters, skilled legal counsel is a key ingredient in the recovery process.