blog home Truck Accidents The Risk of an Ethanol Truck Spill

The Risk of an Ethanol Truck Spill

By Jason Bottlinger on October 30, 2020

Ethanol and other biofuels have become popular alternatives to oil for powering our vehicles, especially as our country tries to find renewable sources of energy. Ethanol production relies heavily on farms throughout the Midwest, including Nebraska and Iowa. While it has been a boon for our economies, safely transporting ethanol is still a major concern on our roadways, as a single ethanol spill can be devastating for auto accident victims and local communities.

How Is Ethanol Transported?

Across the United States, the vast majority of ethanol is transported either via large tanker trucks or trains. According to the United States Department of Energy, a single tanker truck can transport roughly between 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of ethanol while a single train car can carry up to 30,000 gallons. Altogether, this means a large amount of ethanol is distributed from production facilities in Iowa and Nebraska at high rates to the East and West Coast, which are the largest consumers of ethanol-based biofuels.

With regards to tanker trucks, trucking companies and drivers must follow strict guidelines when transporting ethanol. For one, it is considered a hazardous material and extremely flammable, as it is not 100% biofuel. In fact, most ethanol tanks include what is referred to as E10 or E15, which means it contains either 10% or 15% ethanol with a mixture of gasoline. However, even if the tank is filled with E95 or E100 (pure ethanol) it is still considered a flammable material. This means that if it is exposed to an open flame, torn electrical wire, or other chemicals, it can easily catch fire and cause widespread destruction on the roadways. Many of the guidelines around ethanol transportation are based on preventing tanker truck spills.

In order to transport ethanol, truck drivers must have a safety permit from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to transport hazardous material like ethanol. In addition, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also requires truck drivers to have:

  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
  • UN flammable materials numbers
  • DOT placards
  • NFPA 704 placard

These documents and regulations ensure that other drivers are aware that the materials within the tanker truck are flammable and can cause catastrophic damage if involved in a collision. However, the fault for a tanker truck spill is not always related to passenger vehicle drivers, but the truck driver themselves.

How Are Spills Caused?

Since its inception, ethanol spills have been on the rise across the Midwest. In a 30-year span dating back to 1985, an estimated 1.3 million gallons of ethanol were spilled across the United States, 60% of which took place in the Midwest, according to an article by Investigate Midwest. While the majority of spills are related to tanker trucks, there have been major train accidents across both Illinois and Wisconsin.

As trucking companies and drivers are responsible for transporting these dangerous materials as safely as possible, spills are often attributed to them. Common acts of negligence that cause tanker truck spills include:

  • Reckless driving such as sudden stops, sharp turns, or speeding
  • Swerving, which can cause rollovers
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Driver fatigue
  • Poorly sealing or maintain a truck
  • Failing to hire experienced truckers
  • Failing to train trucks to handle hazardous materials
  • Failing to receive FMCSA or DOT certifications to transport ethanol

A tanker truck spills not only brings the risk of explosive and deadly fires, but also serious health effects for anyone near the accident.

Does It Have Negative Health Effects?

During an accident, ethanol can affect victims in several different ways. First of all, there is a high risk of suffering a catastrophic burn in an ethanol fire or explosion, which can lead to scarring, disfigurements, and even nerve damage. But beyond the fire hazard, ethanol is also a hazardous chemical that can lead to serious health conditions when ingested. This can be done by either inhaling toxic fumes after a crash or if the ethanol leaks into the groundwater, affecting local farms, crops, and wells.

According to a report by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), ethanol can cause both short-term and long-term health effects. In the short-term, patients showed signs of intoxication due to inhalation, headaches, difficulty breathing, and eye irritation. While it is not fatal to breathe in ethanol, it can be deadly if ingested. With regard to the long-term effects, ethanol inhalation is similar to alcohol consumption, meaning long-term exposure can negatively affect an individual’s liver. This is unlikely after an accident, but there are several risks to pregnant women if large enough quantities of ethanol are inhaled.

Lastly, ethanol is a dangerous environmental hazard that can seriously impact local aquatic systems, plant and animal life, and drinking water. Farms often suffer the most during spills, as farm animals and crops could be heavily impacted by ethanol ingestion.

At the end of the day, trucking companies should take every precaution to prevent a spill. Sadly, if even one hires an untrained driver or fails to inspect a tanker truck, a catastrophic tanker truck accident could occur. After such a dangerous event, you may be wondering what your options are. In the majority of instances, if a trucking company committed an act of negligence and caused a tanker truck spill, then accident victims could pursue compensation for their injuries.

If you or a loved one was injured in an ethanol truck spill, then you need strong legal aid to get the compensation you deserve. Your best option is to speak to an experienced Omaha truck accident attorney who can explain to you your rights and outline how to pursue compensation. To get started on a claim, reach out to Bottlinger Law L.L.C. at (402) 505-8234. We offer every potential client a free consultation.

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