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Lynchburg Train Derailment Frequently Asked Questions


Updated May 2, 2014

  1. What happened?
  2. What is crude oil?
  3. What is the potential impact?
  4. How will this affect local drinking water from the James River?
  5. Will the local waterworks use another source besides the James River?
  6. Is the drinking water safe?
  7. Is the river being monitored?
  8. Will this affect shellfish living in the James River?
  9. What if someone comes into contact with crude oil?
  10. Is the James River safe for recreational use?
  11. Is it safe to eat fish from the James River?
  12. Are there any other potential health hazards?


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What happened?

On April 30, 2014, a CSX train carrying crude oil derailed in the historic district of Lynchburg, Va. Crude oil from one of the derailed train cars was released into the James River. All smoldering has ceased and air quality is not currently thought to be impacted. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) continues to work closely with CSX, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), local waterworks, and other partners to monitor any potential impact of the oil release into the James River.


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What is crude oil?

Crude oil is a mixture that exists as a liquid in natural underground reservoirs and remains liquid when brought to the surface. Petroleum products are made from the processing of crude oil at petroleum refineries and the extraction of liquid hydrocarbons at natural gas processing plants. Petroleum is the broad category that includes both crude oil and petroleum products. The terms "oil" and "petroleum" are sometimes used interchangeably.


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What is the potential impact?

No impact to water treatment or drinking water quality has occurred to waterworks downstream of the oil spill.


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How will this affect local drinking water from the James River?

There are three waterworks facilities on the James River that potentially may have been impacted by the oil plume: James River Correctional Facility, Henrico County and the City of Richmond. All three Virginia waterworks were notified on April 30, 2014 and immediately took precautionary measures to protect their water supply from any adverse impact. Consumers have not experienced any change to or suspension in drinking water service. Waterworks ensured adequate storage of drinking water was available to continue uninterrupted service to consumers in the unlikely event they would have temporarily ceased production. Federal, state, and local agencies continue to track and monitor the possible presence of crude oil in the James River.


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Will the local waterworks use another source besides the James River?

Other sources of drinking water have been identified if needed.


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Is the drinking water safe?

The drinking water remains safe and no change in finished water quality has occurred.


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Is the river being monitored?

Waterworks continue to maintain awareness of the oil spill through routine monitoring of their intakes.


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Will this affect shellfish living in the James River?

The plume did not impact commercial and recreational shellfish harvest areas downstream.


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What if someone comes into contact with crude oil?

Coming into contact with crude oil for a long period of time may cause skin reddening, irritation, and burning. Petroleum products produced from crude oil have specific toxic effects. Depending on amount and time, ingestion of petroleum products can result in short-term (e.g., nausea, headache) and long-term health effects.


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Is the James River safe for recreational use?

VDH reviewed sample results for four river locations: just upstream of the incident, immediately downstream, 30 miles downstream, and 130 miles downstream.  Results do not indicate that fuel contaminants are currently present at levels of health concern. In addition, no confirmed oil sheen sightings have occurred since May 2, 2014. VDH will continue to review any additional sampling data and inform the public of any identified health risks.

As with any natural body of water, VDH still encourages people to take usual precautions while using the James River. Avoid river water ingestion. Do not swim when water has unusual color or odor, and avoid swimming in any areas where dead fish are present.


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Is it safe to eat fish from the James River?

No new fish consumption advisories have been issued.  VDH urges people to follow the long-standing fish consumption advisories in place for the James River (due to PCBs) and to avoid eating any fish with oily residue or unusual odor. Fish consumption advisories are posted at www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/DEE/PublicHealthToxicology/Advisories/.


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Are there any other potential health hazards?

Inhalation of chemicals produced by burning crude oil may harm the passages of the nose, airways, and lungs. Sensitive individuals such as asthmatics or those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may be more adversely affected.


Last Updated: 05-09-2014

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