The recent derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in South Carolina--which killed 9 and injured 58 when chlorine gas escaped from a tank car--shows just how much the media misses the point. The New York Times worries about the safety of some 60,000 tank cars rolling down the tracks in America, certainly an obvious concern. The Virginian-Pilot frets about the lawsuits and costs to the railroad! Deep in the Virginian-Pilot story, however, we find that Norfolk Southern has had the best safety record of any railroad every year for that last 15 years, and that rail appears to be the safest form of transportation of any kind.
There is zero discussion of our chemically-dependent society and the fact that so many of those chemicals are known to be toxic and otherwise very dangerous. Because we choose to live this way, it's inevitable that we will be harmed by these chemicals. The fact that a tank car bursting was the proximate cause of the trouble in no way identifies the underlying problem.
We could make tank cars more secure and that would be a good thing. A better investment would be to build an economy and society that depended less and less on dangerous chemicals. Isn't that a challenge worthy of our best and most talented minds?
(Comments are open to all. After clicking on "Comments," click on "Or Post Anonymously" if you don't have an account. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)