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Railroad Spill Containment Solutions

When loading and unloading hazardous materials let Basic Concepts spill berms protect your assets. With a wide range of customizable spill containment solutions BCI can temporarily store inventory of all volumes.

Basic Concepts’ railroad spill containment products capture leaks and spills at rail sidings and loading/unloading facilities. BCI offers customizable spill berms to meet most railroad containment processes. These units are available at virtually any length and can prevent costly fines and save money hiring hazmat professionals during the event of a hazardous material spill.

Rigid-Lock Quickberms® are flexible, conforming to different sizes and shapes necessary at on-site spills. Basic Concepts’ spill berms deploys quickly with no assembley required. The durable design meets EPA and state regulations for sized secondary containment.

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To order a compliant spill berm from Basic Concepts Inc. fill out our quick order form and one of our professional sales associates will contact you to make your request.

Why Railroad Spill Containment Is Important

All kinds of hazardous materials are essential to a range of sectors of the U.S. economy. Farming, mining, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and others use chemicals to bring us products and services we use every day. 

The modern supply chain relies on railroads to transport raw materials and manufactured goods to keep the economy humming. The EPA notes that rail companies move chemicals, coal, food, forest products, grain, metals and minerals, cars and auto parts, and more by train through communities across America. 

The EPA regulates the railroad industry to ensure that the materials they are carrying and that they use in their day-to-day operations don’t harm workers or the environment. Enforcement of Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans (SPCC) produced by railroad companies is a crucial part of this regulatory work.

Hazardous Chemicals That Are Shipped By Rail

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), a trade group composed mostly of North America’s largest freight railroad companies, the U.S. chemical industry had a revenue of $565 billion in 2019. That same year, some 2.2 million carloads and 180.7 million tons of chemicals were shipped by rail in the U.S. 

Ethanol was the most commonly shipped chemical on trains in 2019, followed by industrial chemicals like soda ash, caustic soda, urea, sulfuric acid, and anhydrous ammonia, according to the AAR. 

The AAR also states that plastic materials and synthetic resins account for close to a quarter of rail chemical carloads in 2019. The remaining percentage is largely agricultural chemicals, like fertilizers. 

A 2010 paper from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government examining rail transportation of toxic inhalation hazards defines hazardous materials as “industrial materials that are flammable, corrosive, toxic, explosive, or infectious.” It describes substances as hazardous if they “reasonably could be expected to cause adverse human health outcomes.”

The Kennedy School paper cites inhaled chlorine gas, anhydrous ammonia, sulfur dioxide,

ethylene oxide, and hydrogen fluoride as common toxic inhalation hazards chemicals.  

Exposure to these kinds of chemicals can result in serious health problems. For example, chlorine gas can damage the eyes, throat, and lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Breathing even a small amount of hydrogen fluoride gas can irritate the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract according to the CDC. In large amounts (or if it contacts the skin), hydrogen fluoride “can cause death from an irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs.”

While chemical spills and leaks are one potential source of pollution that could come from chemicals shipped by rail, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that stormwater runoff that flows through railyards and other facilities can collect pollutants like “pesticides, petroleum products, chemicals, solvents, asphalts, and acids, which may also contribute to water quality problems.” 

Hazards for Railroad Workers

A 2020 update from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration notes that rail transportation is the safest way of moving hazardous materials over long distances. 

Although the U.S. DOT finds that while rail safety is improving, there are still risks for railway workers who interact with the chemicals being transported and the chemicals used for the care and maintenance of railroad equipment. 

For example, according to the EPA, tasks like maintenance and fluid replacement,  parts replacement, painting, degreasing, parts washing, rust removal, and others can expose workers to harmful chemicals. 

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Federal Railroad Safety Act protects railroad workers (including contractors and subcontractors) who report hazardous safety or security conditions (among other provisions). It protects employees from backlash if they report safety violations or work-related personal injuries or illnesses, like those that could come from chemical exposure.

In 2012, OSHA and the DOT expanded their commitment to rail worker safety by agreeing to make coordination between the two agencies easier with respect to enforcing the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistleblower provision. 

According to the departments, OSHA received more than 900 whistleblower reports between 2007 and 2012. In nearly 63 percent of the reports, rail workers alleged they were retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.

Railcar Spill Containment Requirements & Environmental Regulations

The FRA’s Hazardous Materials Division is responsible for a safety program covering the movement of hazardous materials throughout the U.S. rail system. Infractions can lead to civil penalties.  

Additionally, railroads can be penalized for violating the Clean Water Act. Enforcements and settlements over the past few years illustrate the ways rail companies can be held accountable for violating provisions of the CWA. 

For example, in 2015, Pan Am Railways agreed to settle with the EPA over allegations of violating the Clean Water Act at railyards in Waterville, Maine, and East Deerfield, Massachusetts.

According to the EPA, “Pan Am violated the conditions of the Maine ‘Multi-Sector General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Industrial Activity,’” and “federal Oil Pollution Prevention Regulations.” 

This action shows that railways are not only responsible for meeting federal standards — they must also abide by state environmental laws. 

A 2009 settlement with the Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) shows the ways penalties can be imposed upon companies. In addition to restoring more than 120 acres of mountain-desert streams and wetlands and implementing stormwater controls at construction sites, the EPA imposed a civil penalty, which forced UP to pay a fine of  $800,000 for violating the Clean Water Act. 

A 2012 action by the EPA against UP for Clean Water Act violations at 23 facilities in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming required the company to enact a management and reporting system designed to ensure compliance with the EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans, Facility Response Plans, and stormwater programs, which would cost UP aå estimated $500,000. 

Spill Containment Solutions for Railroads

Spill containment products can help capture leaks and spills at rail sidings and loading/unloading facilities. 

By properly deploying customizable spill berms, companies meet most railroad containment processes and reduce the likelihood of fines. 

BCI’s Rigid-Lock Quickberms® have a durable design that meets both EPA and state regulations for sized secondary containment. The beauty of spill berms is that they can be deployed quickly and easily with no on-site assembly.