BNSF fined for water quality violations

By Steve Guntli

BNSF Railway was levied an $86,000 fine from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) for violating water quality standards in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

According to a press release from the DOE, BNSF placed railroad ties treated with creosote and other materials from maintenance projects near bodies of water in both counties.

Creosote is a preservative chemical made from either wood or coal tar. Coal-tar creosote, which is often used to preserve wood, can be toxic to marine life, and excess amounts can damage habitats and smother fish spawning areas. Since 2004, Washington state has spent millions to remove creosote-treated wood from marine waters.

“BNSF has repeatedly disregarded water quality protection at projects along or near the water,” said Heather Bartlett, DOE’s water quality program manager. “We understand the importance of repair and maintenance, but all sorts of industries plan environmental practices into such work. We expect BNSF Railway to do so, as well.”

The fine is in response to four maintenance projects in particular: one in Van Zandt, one in Burlington and two in Bellingham. In each case, the DOE found BNSF left debris and creosote-treated wood in or near areas that drained directly into larger bodies of water, such as Chuckanut Bay and Bellingham Bay.

Proceeds from the fine go toward the Coastal Protection Fund, which issues grants to public agencies for natural resource restoration projects.

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