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Recent Study Finds ‘Catastrophic’ Hazmat Accident ‘Highly Likely’ in Denver

by  on  Personal Injury

A disaster along the lines of an Ohio train derailment that spread harmful toxic fumes could happen in Denver, according to a study recently made public.

A catastrophic hazardous materials incident is “highly likely,” researchers found in the engineering study commissioned by the City of Denver. More than 100,000 train cars carrying hazardous substances like gasoline, oil, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide roll through Denver each year, a figure that is expected to climb.

“Overall, Denver should expect to see growth in rail traffic, including trains passing through the city carrying hazardous materials and trains originating from or destined to industrial and manufacturing facilities within the city,” engineers from HNTB in Denver concluded in the freight rail safety report.

The Ohio train derailment has brought attention to the safety risks that come with transporting hazardous materials.

Five tankers went off the tracks near East Palestine, Ohio, in February. Fearful that the tankers would explode, crews released vinyl chloride – a toxic chemical – into the air and then slowly burned it off. Residents, who were forced to flee their homes in the aftermath of the accident, now face concerns about hazardous substances seeping into the ground and polluting their breathing air.

Railway company Norfolk Southern is continuing to investigate the spill, according to its CEO. Meanwhile, nine Norfolk Southern rail cars recently derailed in Pennsylvania. This time, fortunately, they were not carrying toxic chemicals.

Local lawmakers in Denver are mulling a city ordinance designed to bolster railway safety, CBS Colorado reports. It would prevent the construction of new buildings within a 100-foot buffer zone from railways and establish evacuation plans, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega told the news outlet.

“The hope is that, as a city, we can be a model for other cities across the country to be able to look at how to do it right and how to make sure we’re doing everything we can to address the public safety factor,” Ortega said in an interview with CBS.

Nearly 280 derailments of cars carrying crude oil or ethanol-carrying trains could occur across the country between 2015 and 2034, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates. That does not include derailments of other hazmat, derailments, or rail hazmat incidents. Nearly one-third of the derailments could happen in densely populated areas, according to the department, while another nearly one-third will come with at least one carload of released flammable liquid igniting and causing a fire.

Denver Area Hazmat Crashes

Recent accidents already show the risk of transporting hazardous materials across Colorado.

Last year, for example, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailed near the South Platte River Trail. Three of the train’s seven cars wound up in the South Platte River, according to a local news report.

The cars were empty at the time and no injuries were reported. Still, Denver Parks and Recreation Department closed a portion of the trail in the Globeville area for an extensive clean-up and removal job.

In March, several rail cars derailed in southern Colorado. The specific causes of both incidents have not been made public.

It is not just train accidents that pose a risk. Hazmat truck crashes are five times more likely to happen on Colorado highways than train crashes on rail lines, according to federal data. Hazmat incidents on Colorado roads reportedly have increased by 60% in the last decade, causing more than $13 million in damages. 

Meanwhile, safety concerns have fueled a swirling debate over a plan to ship oil along the Colorado River. The Uinta Basin Railway would send up to 350,000 barrels of oil a day from Utah to the Gulf Coast, using a national rail network that runs along the Colorado River for more than 100 miles.

The project was approved by federal regulators in 2021, but some lawmakers are seeking to block railway construction until a more thorough review is conducted to assess the project’s potential threats to public safety and the environment.

“This review is especially critical in light of the recent train derailment and environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, which has laid bare the threat of moving hazardous materials by rail,” Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse reportedly said in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Legal Rights for People Injured by Colorado Train Derailments

Anyone who is injured as a result of a train derailment in Colorado has the right to seek compensation from those responsible. That is true whether you are directly injured in a collision or harmed by the release of hazardous material into the air, ground or water supply.

The money damages typically available in these cases include cash for medical bills, property damage, missed wages during recuperation and any long-term impact of the injuries on the person’s ability to earn a living.

To get that compensation you have to prove liability. Most Denver personal injury cases are based on claims for negligence, a legal theory that holds people and entities responsible when they fail to live up to a specific “duty of care.” 

Railway companies and their employees generally have a duty to operate trains in a reasonably responsible way. They are likely to be found negligent if they violate this duty.

If you have been injured in an accident, there is no reason to go it alone. An experienced personal injury lawyer can provide vital assistance by helping you understand your rights and options, investigating the accident and establishing a claim for money damages.

Speak With a Denver Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Colorado, an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer at Levine Law can help. Our attorneys combine decades of experience and a strong track record of success in the courtroom and through negotiated settlements.

Our lawyers are pleased to serve clients throughout Colorado, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins and Loveland. Call us at 303-333-8000 or contact us online to speak with a Denver personal injury lawyer.