Buckland Board of Health: What can we do about dumped railroad ties?

  • Firefighters from 11 towns worked to fight a fire that engulfed roughly 1,500 railroad ties at the Mitchell gravel pit off of Route 142 in Northfield on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

  • The Buckland Board of Health hears from Kelsey Whiting-Jones of Toxics Action Center during a meeting Wednesday, July 5, 2017 in Town Hall to discuss how to end dumping of railroad ties by Pan Am Railways. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Kelsey Whiting-Jones of Toxics Action Center speaks to the Buckland Board of Health during a meeting Wednesday, July 5 in Town Hall to discuss how to end dumping of railroad ties by Pan Am Railways. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 7/6/2017 11:37:19 PM

BUCKLAND — Local officials frustrated with what they believe to be Pan Am Railways’ routine dumping of creosote-covered railroad ties have decided to take action.

The Board of Health, joined by concerned residents and officials from other towns who are also affected by the dumping, met Wednesday night with Kelsey Whiting-Jones of the Toxics Action Center, a nonprofit devoted to helping communities prevent or clean up pollution at a local level.

Whiting-Jones helped the board brainstorm how to have Pan Am clean up and cease dumping to meet the town’s long-term goal of having a clean environment and healthy residents.

Primarily, board members were concerned about rain run-off from the railroad ties that can contaminate the rivers with creosote, which the Environmental Protection Agency deemed a probable cause of cancer. Additionally, the ties have caused fires, such as the June 13 fire in Northfield that involved firefighters from 11 towns, and two separate blazes in Whately and Deerfield last summer.

The Northfield fire led the Board of Health to take action, with members Richard Warner and Terry Estes remembering a row of between 1,000 and 1,500 dumped railroad ties between the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum and The Blue Rock Restaurant & Bar. If the Northfield fire at the Mitchell gravel pit required hours of labor and assistance from 11 departments, the board wondered what would happen if the railroad ties in Buckland were to catch fire so close to town.

Estes went on to cite the risks for firefighters being exposed to the toxic creosote, causing skin redness, burning and itching.

Pan Am’s dumping, Estes and Whiting-Jones agreed, is a well-known problem that’s been addressed previously through lawsuits and minimal fines, without resulting clean-up action.

“It’s huge and it’s been around for a long time,” Whiting-Jones said of railroad tie dumping. “There are cases going back to 1999.”

“Whenever you type in Pan Am on a search, you come up with lawsuits about railroad ties,” Estes said, citing fines in Massachusetts ranging from $130,000 to $750,000.

For such a large company, the fines are “small slaps on the wrist,” Whiting-Jones said, with little follow-up in enforcement measures. Attendees emphasized a need to get legislators, both state and national, involved.

“If they’re ignoring a fine that size, we have to get national recognition on board,” said Trevor McDaniel, a selectman and Board of Health member in Deerfield.

Moving forward, the board resolved to gather information about Pan Am and the effects of creosote, and to meet with State Rep. Stephen Kulik, Sen. Adam Hinds, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Rep. Paul Mark within the next two months. Whiting-Jones also recommended meeting with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg and Attorney General Maura Healey.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257


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