A lasting chemical legacy

  When a Missoula Rail Link train derailed April 11, 1996, ruptured tank cars exposed suddenly wakened residents of Alberton, Mont., to 129,000 pounds of chlorine gas and 17,000 gallons of potassium cresylate (HCN, 8/3/98). More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the western Montana town that night, and most didn't return until health and emergency officials declared the area "safe" weeks later. But was the town truly safe? Three years after the accident, a video titled A Toxic Train Runs Through It, has raised questions about how safe the town is. University of Montana graduate student Lisa Mosca interviewed residents who told her they suffer from various ailments, including chronic fatigue and neurological disorders. They are also frustrated with how officials handled the accident and its aftermath. But the hour-long video hints that society's appetite for products such as household bleach and pesticides also contributes to the scenarios that lead to chemical spills. Mosca says she "wanted to get the average person thinking about what dangers are out there, and what alternatives exist that they could tap into." The outcry from activists and Alberton residents recently led the EPA to reopen an investigation of the spill and its continuing effects.

The video is available free to community and nonprofit groups. Call the Alberton Community Coalition for Environmental Health at 406/728-7572, or e-mail [email protected]

* Ali Macalady