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Re-routing railroad cars urged

(The following article by James Bruggers was posted on the Courier-Journal website on September 30.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville should join several other cities that are taking steps to re-route railroad cars containing deadly chemicals outside their urban areas, a chemical-safety advocate said yesterday.

Fred Millar, who worked with the Washington, D.C., city council to pass such an ordinance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, cited industry and government documents that acknowledge some rail cars contain chemicals that could, if quickly released, kill people as far as 15 miles away.

He called a rail car of chlorine gas "a weapon of mass destruction."

His comments came during a national Environmental Justice for All bus tour that stopped in the Rubbertown area of Louisville yesterday on its way from Texas to Washington.

Also yesterday, Rubbertown chemical plants, local firefighters and city hazardous materials officials staged an emergency response drill.

It was a coincidence that the two events occurred on the same day, said Greg Brotzge, spokesman for the Louisville Chemistry Partnership, representing eight chemical plants.

The drill, which included rail car response, drew more than 150 people, allowing them to practice their techniques, said Michael Bosse, chairman of the Rubbertown Mutual Aid Association, which pools people and equipment to address spills, fires or explosions.

The association wants people to know that officials "are there to protect (the public) in the event something goes wrong," Bosse said.

After 9/11, Louisville officials looked into what they could do to improve rail car safety and security but decided to hold off pending a resolution of litigation brought by the railroad industry and the Bush administration seeking to overturn the Washington ordinance.

The industry and federal government say regulation of railroads is a federal role.

Millar said the Washington litigation will be tied up in court up to five years. In the meantime, he said seven other cities including Chicago are weighing railroad re-routing ordinances and that Louisville would better protect its residents if it joined them.

Metro Council member Mary Woolridge said she wants to "talk to some of my colleagues and see if we can come up with an ordinance that re-routes some of these trains."

City officials would welcome an opportunity to hear Woolridge's ideas, said Chad Carlton, spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Christine Edwards, a Rubbertown area resident, blamed her illnesses on air pollution and said the plants should be moved out of town.

Brotzge said that even though chemical companies are fighting the city's new toxic air control program, they share activists' goal of improving air quality. He said Rubbertown companies have cut toxic emissions by 41 percent in the past five years.

Monday, October 2, 2006

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