The BurlingAton Northern Sante Fe Railway (BNSF)—the second largest railroad network in North America—was recently fined by Washington for illegally dumping toxic materials in bodies of water located in Whatcom and Skagit county water bodies. This recent misconduct comes as no surprise to Washington officials, who have been fining BNSF for such illegal practices for years.
The Department of Ecology has fined the BNSF Railway $86,000 for dumping treated railroad materials in local water bodies. While the Department of Ecology says they understand the need for railroad companies to treat their materials with toxic chemicals, as treatment is an important step for repair and maintenance, they expect BNSF to figure out ways to comply with the same rules and regulations that all other railway companies do. The decision to fine the railway came after multiple warnings and technical assistance from Washington, all of which were largely ignored.
The BNSF is currently under fire for four different illegal activities, including leaving debris coated with toxic chemicals near Chuckanut Bay, water systems in Van Zandt and Burlington, and in seasonal waterways that drain into Bellingham Bay.
The Toxic Treatment
The BNSF Railway treats their materials with chemicals called creosotes—a toxic brew made up of distilled tar, and either wood or fossil fuels. These chemicals have been used to prevent rot in outdoor wood structures such as ships and bridges for centuries. However, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), exposure to large amounts of creosotes can cause a myriad of health-related issues, from stomach aches, to chemical burns, liver problems, and in rare cases, death.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also determined that creosotes are most likely carcinogenic, meaning there is a chance one could get cancer from exposure to the chemical. This comes as no surprise to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been warning against the cancerous and other deadly affects creosotes have on animals, with studies showing cancerous skin legions on multiple animal test subjects.
The money collected from BNF Railway’s fines will go directly to support the Ecology Department’s Coastal Protection Fund, which loans money to public agencies interested in environmental restoration projects. The BNSF has one month to appeal their case before the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.