New Study: Philly’s Minority Communities at Greatest Risk from Oil Trains

Media Releases

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, ACTION United and ForestEthics

[Philadelphia, PA] A new report today released by ForestEthics, ACTION United and PennEnvironment reveals that Philadelphia’s communities of color and low-income communities face disproportionate threats from oil train explosions and pollution when compared with white and higher-income communities. Oil train explosions in the last few years have caused devastating harm, like the 2015 oil train explosion that rocked West Virginia, and the fatal July 2013 Lac Megantic oil train disaster.

The report, Environmental Justice and Oil Trains in Pennsylvania, shows that people of color in Philadelphia are more likely to live in the possible oil train blast zone — the dangerous one-mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and fire — than their white counterparts. Specifically, the report shows that more than half (58%) of the people living inside Philadelphia’s blast zone are people of color while less than a third (32%) of those living outside of the blast zone are people of color.

“These oil trains go through our neighborhoods, many to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery. They go through our neighborhoods, but we can’t move away because we don’t necessarily have the resources to do so. We know that the CEOs who are profiting off these oil trains can live wherever they want — they don’t have to worry about their grandkids playing on the playground with explosive trains right nearby,” said Teresa Hill, with ACTION United and a resident of Southwest Philly.

The report used the new U.S. EPA Environmental Justice Screening Tool (EJSCREEN) and maps of oil train routes to evaluate the disparate threat from oil trains to the most vulnerable populations in Philadelphia based on race and class data. Using this data, the report finds that 50% of people living in communities statistically vulnerable to environmental racism are within the dangerous blast zone, yet the blast zone is only 12% of the land area — showing that the most vulnerable populations are disproportionately clustered in the blast zones.

“We used U.S. EPA’s methodology and US Census data to look at the threat to people living along oil train routes, our maps show that crude oil trains add to environmental discrimination in Philadelphia,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme oil campaign director. “The danger of an explosion and lung disease from mile-long oil trains falls heaviest on families in environmental justice communities — families who already live with more air pollution and the highest risk from industrial accidents.”

Oil trains have come under more and more scrutiny with increased derailments and explosions. In November 2013, 5 oil train cars derailed in King of Prussia. In January 2015 and January 2014, oil train cars derailed in Philadelphia, including cars that hung over the Schuylkill River for hours.

“Despite these near misses, dangerous oil trains continue to rumble through our neighborhoods every day, putting Philadelphians at risk for death, injury and destruction.”

said PennEnvironment campaign organizer Zoë Cina-Sklar. “People in these neighborhoods—particularly those living in environmental justice communities—deserve to understand the risk that oil trains pose to their health and safety.”

The report calls on Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management to hold community meetings in all neighborhoods surrounding oil trains routes to discuss evacuation plans in case of derailment or emergency. It also urges the U.S. EPA to investigate and correct the environmental injustice in the oil train blast zone.

“People in Philadelphia are being kept in the dark about these dirty and dangerous oil trains going right by their homes and workplaces, exposing them to pollution and the threat of catastrophe day in and day out. We need the City to publicly disclose the what, when, and where of these hazardous trains and provide our vulnerable neighborhoods with urgently needed derailment and oil spill emergency response plans, before there is another accident,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The report also reviewed similar data from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Reading.  These statewide findings showed that minority communities in these cities similarly face disparate threats from oil train explosions and pollutions.

The complete report, Environmental Justice and Oil Trains, is available at:…