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Tiffin professor proposes new safety measures after Willard chemical spill

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TIFFIN, OH (Toledo News Now) -

Leaders in Tiffin are preparing for the worst after the train derailment and toxic leak that displaced several residents in Willard just about 20 miles away. Some say the disaster hit a little too close to home and they want to be prepared if the situation ever happens again.

Two universities in Tiffin sit right next to railroad tracks, causing leaders to wonder if they would be ready if a train derailment were to happen in their city.

"It's by far the most highly-condensed area of the city, right next to the railroad tracks in town. If there was to be an incident, I can only imagine how catastrophic it could be," said Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz.

Just weeks ago, Tiffin hotels opened their doors to more than 200 Willard residents forced from their homes by a train derailment and subsequent chemical spill.

"We were hearing of the tragedies, that they had no warning system other than someone knocking on their door or seeing posts on Twitter or Facebook, or on the news," said Montz.

Ironically, the city of Tiffin had already been looking into a disaster plan. John Schupp, a chemistry professor at Tiffin University is leading the effort.

"You don't think about it. It's like, 'Oh, the train goes through every day.' You know, we get used to it. Nothing is going to happen to us, right? No," said Schupp.

Schupp is pushing CSX to create a verbal warning system that would alert the whole city if a train derails and causes a chemical spill.

"If we had four different towers along the tracks and we had sensors along the tracks to sense if it's chlorine, if it's ammonia, if it's styrene, if it's whatever. Those sensors then go right to the towers and say what to do," explained Schupp.

He got the idea after studying the tragic chlorine gas spill in Graniteville, SC in 2005. Nine people died and at least 250 were treated for chlorine exposure.

"Do we tell the kids to get the heck out of the dorms, or get to the upper levels? How do we know what to do? In Graniteville, it took three hours until the police showed up, determined what it was, and then said what you have to do. By then, people are dead," said Schupp.

Schupp plans to take his proposal to CSX in the coming months, and Mayor Montz has approved his plan. If CSX approves, it's estimated to cost the company under $200,000 and take about six months to build.

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