An 18-wheeler struck a Union Pacific freight train in Houston on Monday, killing the truck driver and knocking the train off its tracks. The incident followed another crash earlier this month that spilled toxic chemicals outside the town of East Palestine, Ohio.
Officials maintained that the cargo involved in the Houston crash didn’t contain any materials formally listed as hazardous, according to Houston Public Media.
At the same time, a Union Pacific spokesperson told the NPR affiliate the crash did release 100 gallons of diesel, which is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to its high sulfur content.
Local authorities said “household chemicals” intended “for retail purposes” were also on board.
In the case of the wreck that occurred Feb. 3 in Ohio, the materials on board were potentially deadly.
Five of the train cars carried vinyl chloride, a combustible precursor to the plastic PVC that — when burned — converts to the lethal gas phosgene, famously used in World War I gas attacks.
But another 15 derailed cars also carried hazardous materials, according to information rail company Norfolk Southern provided to the EPA.
The EPA found that chemicals spilled from the wreck “were entering storm drains.”
Those sewers lead through local waterways to the Ohio River. Water managers in downstream towns like Cincinnati began watching for an incoming chemical plume.
The pair of recent crashes — including one on the doorstep of a major chemical and petroleum refining hub — have underscored the risks posed by train derailments.
While trains remain among the safest forms of transporting freight, about 1,700 trains derail per year on average — more than four per day.
Over the course of 2022, there were 18 derailments involving trains carrying hazardous materials, USA Today reported.
The share of trains in the broader category of hazmat crashes also appears to be increasing. USA Today found that while trains have accounted for just 1 in 10 hazmat wrecks over the past decade, they made up 1 in 4 such incidents in 2022.