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Albany not ready for crude oil accident

Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail
Crude oil train moves past a children's playground in Albany.

Albany County officials recently tried to reassure the public over concerns about the crude oil trains that travel through the city. Officials have acknowledged the trains pose a significant risk but they also admit that depending on the nature of an accident, there’s little they can do.

“It would be almost unrealistic to think that we could fight a 100 tank car filled with oil -- to fight that fire, it’s not gonna happen," Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said during a recent common council meeting at the Albany Public Housing Authority. "Nor do I think that any municipality in the country can fight that.”

Along with city officials from the police and fire departments, Apple spoke quite bluntly about the county’s limited abilities to handle a train fire. He cited limited funding for resources like firefighting foam or upgrades to first responder radio systems that would enable communication with other counties, should additional help be needed in the event of a disaster.

As for now, Apple says the county can handle a small accident.

“We have a plan set up for one car, two cars, three cars, anything over 4 to 6 cars we’re not gonna be able to fight," Apple said. "It’s gonna be a matter of 'listen, lets evacuate, let’s stabilize, let’s try to protect property' at that point and let it burn.”

Letting it burn is the same approach officials in Lynchburg, Virginia took after 15 cars of an oil train derailed and ignited on April 30.

While an explosion or fire remained the subject of most of the attention at this common council meeting, the Department of Environmental Conservation was also on hand to discuss issues around air quality around the crude oil trains.

Albany County Health Commissioner James Crucetti says they’re monitoring air quality at numerous locations around the Port of Albany.

“We’re taking a comprehensive approach, looking at any potential emission in the heating or oil process from beginning to the end, trying to access emissions at different control points,” Crucetti said.

The commission’s looking at more than 40 different volatile organic chemicals, including the cancer causing benzene. Should an accident occur, Crucetti says the health department will be on hand to assist in public safety regarding smoke or released vapors.

Residents like Charlene Benton, president of the Ezra Prentice Houses Tenants Association say they still want more thorough information about protecting themselves and preventing an accident.

“Do I feel any safer? Not really," Benton said. "I mean, I feel that they're making some progress in trying to do the air monitoring and all that, but it doesn’t present us with the safety.”  

Above all, Apple says they’re not trying to create mass hysteria by discussing how a potential train fire would be handled.

“We’re not supporting the trains, we’re not fighting against the trains, we’re stuck with the trains,” he said.