The fiery train derailment in Lynchburg Wednesday led to 50,000 gallons of oil leaking into local waterways.
It may take days or weeks to know how much of that oil burned or spilled into the James River when the train went off the rails and caused an explosion.
Clean up crews are still on the site and investigators are trying to uncover the cause. Some eyewitnesses however are already seeing and smelling some ominous signs.
"It started making a tremendous roaring sound. It sounded like a jet was sitting on top of us,” said Mason Basten, owner of River Road Jet Boats. "The fire ignited and it was just unbelievable."
As flames and smoke clouded the skies in Lynchburg when a CSX freight train carrying crude oil derailed Wednesday, questions also rose regarding the way this might impact our water and the environment.
"When you get on the Lynchburg side and travel down, behind the island, you've got a heavy smell of fuel,” said Basten.
Basten says the raging flames left him speechless - and concerned for wildlife.
"We did see some ducks that appeared to have some stuff on them. One in particular couldn't get off the water very well,” said Basten.
At a press conference Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that water quality tests are already in the works. Water supplied to Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the rest of the NBC29 viewing area does not come from the James River - but it may take some time before other effects come to light.
"Hopefully this won't be too bad in the big picture,” said Basten.
Garland Harper, who worked for Amtrak in Charlottesville for 30 years and now lives right by the railroad in Lynchburg, says the aftermath shocked him.
"It dismayed me quite a bit,” said Harper. "I'm glad things have settled down and I hope things get back to normal soon,” said Harper.
So far no injuries have been reported.
According to Platts, a global provider of energy, petrochemicals and other trade information, the train that derailed in Lynchburg was carrying oil from North Dakota. Platts reports it was bakken, or "sweet crude oil,” that was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown, Virginia.
Controversy over shipping this kind of oil has been on-going since January, when the U.S. Department of Transportation's pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration issued a safety alert involving that kind of crude oil, saying it is more flammable than other, heavier oils.
Investigators aim to learn more details revealing the cause and effects of Wednesday's derailment in the coming weeks.
Office of Governor Terry McAuliffe Press Release
LYNCHBURG, Va. – Recovery efforts continue along the James River today following yesterday’s derailment and fire involving a CSX train transporting crude oil through downtown Lynchburg. Of the 17 derailed train cars, three fell into the river, resulting in an estimated crude oil release of 20,000 to 25,000 gallons. Environmental and rail transport investigations are expected to continue for several months.
“Since yesterday’s accident my team and I have remained in constant contact with local, state and federal responders who continue to do great work keeping Virginians safe,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “At this time we expect downstream impacts to the environment and drinking water to be minimal or undetectable. Local, state and federal entities are monitoring and sampling the James River for any impacts, and Virginia’s drinking water continues to be safe.”
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Drinking Water (ODW) continues to work closely with CSX, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local waterworks to monitor any potential impact of the oil spill into the James River. Waterworks have made operational adjustments for increased available storage capacity of drinking water to service consumers without interruption. Alternate sources of drinking water have been identified should the need arise. Filtration systems in place at waterworks are capable of filtering out possible contaminants.
Along the James River, DEQ is monitoring the river to determine whether there are any environmental impacts, and has collected water samples that will be analyzed for possible contamination downriver of the spill.
As a precautionary measure, VDH Division of Environmental Epidemiology recommends no recreational use of the James River from Lynchburg to Richmond (especially in any areas where crude oil or sheen may be present) until further notice. Recreational use includes swimming, kayaking, rafting, etc.
Nearly all businesses near the derailment have reopened since yesterday’s evacuation. With no injuries or fatalities reported at this time, Lynchburg cleanup and recovery efforts are anticipated to finish today.
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