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Bakken crude oil train next to children's playground at Ezra Prentince Houses in Albany. Photo by Jenna Flanagan
Bakken crude oil train next to children's playground at Ezra Prentince Houses in Albany. Photo by Jenna Flanagan

Local Albany officials say they're not ready for crude oil accidents

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Albany County officials are trying to reassure the public over concerns about the crude oil trains that travel through the city. The city's port has become a major hub for rail shipments of volatile crude from the Midwest. Many of those trains travel the length of Lake Champlain on their way south from Canada.

Officials have acknowledged that the trains pose a significant risk. At a recent Common Council, they admitted that depending on the nature of an accident, there's little local emergency services could do.

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Reported by

Jenna Flanagan
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

Anything over four to six cars we're not gonna be able to fight. 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.
"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 going to happen, and nor do I think that any municipality in the country can fight that," said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Along with city officials from the police and fire departments, 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 going to be able to fight," he said. "It's going to be a matter of listen, lets 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, Va., 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," Crucetti said.

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.

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