Keeping Residents Safe after a Train Accident in Pennsylvania

In August of 2017, a train carrying toxic chemicals, including molten sulfur and liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, derailed in southwestern Pennsylvania at 5 a.m. The fire department and hazardous materials team responded immediately, evacuating the entire surrounding borough – approximately 3,000 residents. By that afternoon, it was clear the air quality was unsafe and there was a threat to the public’s health. Emergency management immediately called in PHEP-funded staff at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Health department staff coordinated the public health response with CDC the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to monitor the threat level. The PHEP-supported health department acted as the information hub for monitoring the air quality and determining when it was safe for the residents to return. They worked with partners to determine a safe threshold of air contamination and worked with community leaders to communicate this critical information.

Because the train derailed in a town that sits on the border, many residents evacuated to neighboring Maryland. Some of these residents were dependent on home health care – however, in Pennsylvania, home health care nurses cannot practice across state lines. Health department staff rapidly worked with their colleagues at the Maryland state health department to provide waivers to allow these nurses to practice across state lines for the duration of the evacuation.

Because of PHEP, public health has a “seat at the table” during emergency responses with potential health impacts such as this one. The rapid and practiced efforts of the PHEP-funded health department staff helped keep evacuees safe during the response and ensured that they were able to return home as quickly as possible.

Train Explosion

In August 2017, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in Pennsylvania, necessitating the evacuation of 3,000 residents. PHEP-funded staff helped assess the threat level and determine when it was safe for the 3,000 residents who had evacuated to return to their homes, while also ensuring medically-dependent evacuees were safe.

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The Incident

In August 2017, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in Pennsylvania, necessitating the evacuation of 3,000 residents.

The Response

PHEP-funded staff helped assess the threat level and determine when it was safe for the 3,000 residents who had evacuated to return to their homes, while also ensuring medically-dependent evacuees were safe.

The Outcomes

These efforts helped keep evacuees safe from injury with minimal disruption to the community.

Page last reviewed: October 8, 2020, 01:10 PM