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Environmental Activist Discusses Dangerous Chemicals On Freight Trains

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Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-30 19:44:01-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Freight trains carrying hazardous chemicals is nothing new. The question has become what is coming through and who has the information.

Freight trains carrying dangerous chemicals have travelled through Nashville every day.

"Acrylonitrile and chlorine and all kinds of other very dangerous cargos are shipped through almost all major American cities," environmental activist Fred Millar said.

We met Millar nine years ago when we first did this story.

Millar helped Washington, D.C. develop its homeland security plans.

We took him up in Sky 5, and he spotted chlorine tankers throughout Nashville.

"It should have a skull and cross bones, a big skull and cross bones saying on the side of these railroad tank cars with big letters that say poison gas," Millar said.

Not much has changed in ten years.

Millar said in a worst case scenario just one punctured chlorine tanker car could release a gas cloud 15 miles long and four miles wide.

Thousands of people could die or get very sick.

Millar said, "What citizens in Tennessee ought to be demanding is to see the railroad's routing decisions. I mean why would you have to bring your most dangerous cargo through our capital city?"

Several cities have tried to pass ordinances giving them the authority to reroute dangerous chemicals, but Congress has stopped them.

“They went to Congress and got a bill that preempted states and locals from acting on that, and it also allowed them to make these decisions in complete secrecy," Millar said.

What has made matters worse is a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department said he cannot discuss details of about the kinds of materials coming through the city.

Brian Haas said firefighters have access to data bases telling them what is coming through the city in real time.

Haas also said firefighters have trained for years with railroad hazmat teams so they can effectively respond to an emergency, but Millar said it's not enough and Nashville citizens deserve to know what kinds of chemicals are travelling through their city.

“I mean we have had chlorine releases that are quite substantial, and so the fact is luckily none of them have occurred in a major populated area," Millar said. 

Related Story: Thousands Evacuated After Train Derails In East Tennessee