Gogama oil spill raises concerns about environmental damage

While investigators continue to search for the cause of a CN train to derail Saturday near Gogama, Ont., the environmental impact is becoming more apparent.

Cleanup continues at the site of a CN train derailment about 30 km northwest of Gogama, Ont.

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      CN Rail reported 29 cars enroute from Alberta jumped the tracks, about 80 kilometers south of Timmins. 2:56
      While investigators continue to search for the cause of a CN train Saturday near Gogama, Ont., the environmental impact is becoming more apparent.

      Black charred oil tankers lie on their sides in snow stained by crude oil.

      CN said the derailed train was carrying diluted bitumen from Alberta to eastern Canada.

      Laurentian University professor Charles Ramcharan says that's one of the worst things that can be spilled.

      "The trouble is that it's very toxic, so if you have a spill it causes a lot of damage and because the bitumen is a solid, it stays on the landscape for a very long time."

      The nearby Mattagami First Nation is also concerned.

      Oil is pooling at the frozen headwaters of a small creek near the site of the derailment.

      Councillor Jennifer Constant said that waterway leads to her community.

      "The impacts may be not immediate, but what are the long-term aspects going to be for people who do utilize the lake and go hunting in the area? They've used these lands for time immemorial and they're worried about the impacts of that,” she said.

      “Their health or practices have the potential to be affected by this."

      Contamination, die-off

      While CN works with partners to clean up the spill, Ramachran said he worries the incident could fall off the radar because of its remote location.

      "Just because there are no immediate human health concerns, I do worry that this one will kind of fall off the radar."

      CN says crews are letting a controlled fire burn out at the site.

      Once the dillutants burn off, tar will be left to remove, Ramcharan noted.

      He predicted all trees in the surrounding area will be coated with toxins, leading to some die-off. He said the soil will be contaminated as well.

      A total of 15 cars released crude oil and seven caught fire when the train went off the tracks late Saturday night.

      The Transportation Safety Board is investigating a section of broken rail containing a rail joint and a broken wheel.

      The director with Transport Action Ontario, an organization that advocates for transportation improvements, said some kind of mechanical failure might be to blame.

      “It's hard to tell,” Dan Hammond said.

      “You know, I would like the investigation to takes its course on this one. But things like broken wheels, the industry does not like to see.”

      CN said both the train and the track passed safety inspections shortly before the derailment.

      Why did 29 cars carrying crude oil jump the tracks near Gogama? We get the latest on the investigation into the derailment from Rob Johnston, manager of the head office and central regional operations with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. 7:51

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