Days later, coal still sitting in canal near James river after train derailed

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Piles of coal still remain in a canal near the James river after 13 train cars carrying the fossil fuel derailed on Friday — and it’s raising environmental concerns.

A spokesperson for the railroad owner, CSX, said workers are currently making sure the coal doesn’t spill further into the water. However, the spokesperson, Cindy Schild, said CSX still has not hired a contractor to fully remove the coal from the Kanawha canal.

“It’s a really serious issue when something like this happens,” said Tim Cywinski, an environmental advocate for Virginia’s Sierra Club chapter.

Drone video shot Tuesday afternoon shows crews taking coal from areas around the water and loading it into trucks. The negative effects of coal still sitting in the Kanawha canal is worrying some like Cywinski.

“Coal is made up of a lot of toxic chemicals. Arsenic, lead, mercury, that’s just a few of them,” he said. “So whenever that gets introduced to a natural habitat it’s always going to be disruptive. So I would not be surprised if aquatic life took a real damage in this incident,” he said. Cywinski added as long as the fossil fuel is cleaned up correctly, there should be minimal or no effects on our drinking water.

After the crash Friday, Schild told 8News “there was no impact to nearby waterways.” She went on to say some remaining coal was carefully, purposefully dumped out so cars could be removed.

“CSX performed a controlled dump of the remaining coal from the damaged cars in order to clear them from the area,” Schild said. “Environmental measures were deployed to ensure that there is no impact from the dumped coal before it is completely recovered and removed from the scene.”

However, a drone video sent to 8News from a concerned viewer the day after the crash shows coal spilling into the canal.

“I do not trust any corporation to act in the best interest of the community they serve or transit through. Corporations exist to turn a profit and save money where they can,” said Walker Smithson, who sent the video.

Smithson said he has no “particular bias” against CSX or any other rail freight carrier.

“I think it’s important to bring to light the damage things like this incident can cause and give perspective, report the facts, and hold companies like CSX responsible for when they screw up,” he said. “This is peak swimming season and so far I haven’t seen any environmental reports from CSX regarding the damage that this caused, how long the clean-up is estimated to take.”

After initially stating that the crash didn’t impact nearby waterways, CSX admitted on Monday that the toxic chemicals are in fact, in the water.

“The coal will be recovered from the canal,” Schild said. “We are in the process of identifying the contractor that will complete this work. In the meantime, the coal is being contained by the environmental measures in place; namely, booms and silt curtains.”

The spokesperson told 8News workers are stopping the toxic chemicals from spilling further. However, she said CSX still needs to hire a contractor to fully remove it.

“We can’t be fast enough that we clean something like this up,” said Cywinski. “As long as we rely on dirty fuels, we’re going to have problems like this.”

In her latest update, Schild said there’s no update on what caused the train to derail in the first place. She also said CSX is working closely with the city of Richmond and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

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