Officials investigating the cause of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster have determined that oil onboard the runaway train was a flammable class three liquid, not the non-hazardous oil labelled by New Brunswick-based Irving Oil.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada made the announcement on September 11, 2013 at a morning news conference that provided updates on the investigation into the July 6, 2013 train explosion that killed 47 people in the small Quebec town.
Lead investigator Donald Ross told media that tests were conducted on oil contained in nine of the 72 train cars belonging to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway. He said the misidentification of the oil explains why the train’s cargo was able to ignite as quickly as it did.
The crude oil onboard the train had been labelled as packing group three, the least hazardous on the scale. Tests revealed that the Irving Oil cargo had properties of a packing group two substance, which can be as flammable as gasoline.
The Transportation Safety Board has sent safety advisory letters to rail authorities in Canada and the U.S to review the processes for suppliers and companies labelling and transporting dangerous goods.
Although officials have yet to make any moves, Irving Oil may face penalties under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act for the mislabelling error.
Flammable liquids included in Class 3, Flammable Liquids, are in one of the following packing groups:
- Packing Group I, if they have an initial boiling point of 35 C or less at an absolute pressure of 101.3 kPa and any flash point;
- Packing Group II, if they have an initial boiling point greater than 35 C at an absolute pressure of 101.3 kPa and a flash point less than 23 C; or
- Packing Group III, if the criteria for inclusion in Packing Group I or II are not met.
Source: Transportation Safety Board of Canada