After Ohio derailment, new push for bill requiring cleanup plans for trains carrying chemicals

By: - February 20, 2023 7:17 am

Assemblywoman Ellen Park wants to ensure train operators have cleanup plans in place in the case of a train derailment like the one that happened Feb. 3 in Ohio. (Courtesy of the EPA)

Weeks after a train derailed in a small town in Ohio, spilling toxic chemicals into the air and water, a New Jersey lawmaker wants a renewed look at a train-safety bill she introduced in September.

The bill (A4442) would require certain train operators to provide cleanup plans to the Department of Environmental Protection in the case of any hazardous material leaking or a derailment similar to the Feb. 3 one in East Palestine, Ohio. A copy of the plan would be shared with local officials and the state Office of Emergency Management.

“Trains go within 100 feet of different businesses, homes, places of worship. It’s a big concern to know how to react to accidents as quickly as possible,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Park (D-Bergen), sponsor of the legislation. “We want to make it transparent so that in case of an emergency, we know exactly what’s on the train.”

While Park said the bill is garnering more support among lawmakers as questions continue to swirl around the Ohio train derailment, she’s been paying attention to the issue for a long time as a nearby Englewood Park resident.

For years, residents have reported freight trains idling hundreds of feet from their homes, she said. A 2015 CBS News report says residents complained about the possible release of carcinogens into the air from freight trains that carry crude oil and idle for hours at a time.

Last year during a meeting to call attention to the issue, Park said she could hear the loud trains rumbling close by.

Assemblywoman Ellen Park wants state environmental officials to have cleanup plans on hand in the case of a derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials. (Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

“It could just take a second for an accident to occur. Maybe it’s not all 10 cars exploding at once, but it takes just one leak, or running over an animal, or something like that, and we’d have a huge disaster on our hands,” she said in a phone interview.

The bill wouldn’t address the original cause of the East Palestine crash — officials believe it may have been caused by a wheel bearing on a rail car that overheated — but it could have avoided problems surrounding the cleanup, Park said.

The trains cars that derailed Feb. 3 carried vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic material, and toxic fumes were released during a controlled burn that authorities said was meant to prevent an explosion. Residents within one mile of the burn were temporarily evacuated.

Park’s bill would apply to “high hazard” trains hauling 200,000 or more gallons of petroleum or petroleum products, or 20,000 or more gallons of other hazardous substances.

The bill would require train operators’ cleanup plan to include information on the type of emergency response measures they plan to use in the event of a spill of hazardous material, the type of equipment they have available for such a cleanup, a list of names and addresses of all emergency response coordinators they plan to employ, and more.

Ohio and federal officials have told residents of East Palestine that they have not detected dangerous levels of chemicals in the air or municipal water, but residents there have continued to report lingering chemical odors in the air and continued rashes and headaches.

If a similar derailment happened anywhere in densely populated North Jersey, Park said, the impact would potentially be more devastating.

“We’re more condensed, so it’s a big concern to us,” Park stressed. “We’re really trying to push this as a priority now, because should anything like this happen in a place like Teaneck, we want to have protocols set up.”

The bill has been previously introduced, sponsored in prior years by former Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who represented Bergen County. Now, she said, Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) plans to sponsor a Senate companion bill.

“It’s got to get done — it’s something we need to prepare for because we have a lot of trains running through Jersey that are carrying these high hazardous materials,” she said.


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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.