What is Ethanol, How is it Transported, and is it Safe?

Ethanol is also called alcohol, a clear, colorless liquid and the principal ingredient in alcoholic beverages. It can be dissolved in water and other organic compounds. Ethanol is found in products from personal care, beauty products, paints, and varnishes, as well as fuel.

Almost 100 percent of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol, usually in a mixture called E10, made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution.

Ethanol and other biofuels have become popular alternatives to oil for powering our vehicles, especially as our country tries to find renewable energy sources.

Safely transporting ethanol is still a primary concern on our roadways. A single ethanol spill can devastate auto accident victims and local communities.


How Is Ethanol Transported?

Across the United States, most ethanol is transported via large tanker trucks or trains. According to the United States Department of Energy, a single tanker truck can transport roughly 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of ethanol, while a single train car can carry up to 30,000 gallons.

This means a large amount of ethanol is distributed from production facilities and transported on all major highways.

Regarding tanker trucks, trucking companies and drivers must follow strict guidelines when transporting ethanol.

For one, it is considered hazardous material and highly flammable, as it is not 100% biofuel. 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.

If exposed to an open flame, torn electrical wire, or other chemicals, it can easily catch fire and cause widespread destruction on the roadways.

Therefore, many of the guidelines around ethanol transportation are based on preventing tanker spills.

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 (D.O.T.) also requires truck drivers to have:

  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
  • U.N. flammable materials numbers
  • D.O.T. placards
  • NFPA 704 placard


These documents and regulations ensure that other drivers know that the tanker truck’s materials 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 increased to an estimated 1.3 million gallons across the United States.

While most spills are related to tanker trucks, there have been significant train accidents that are involved as well.

Trucking companies and drivers are responsible for transporting these dangerous materials as safely as possible, so spills are often attributed to them. Everyday 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 maintaining a truck
  • Failing to hire experienced truckers
  • Failing to train trucks to handle hazardous materials
  • Failing to receive FMCSA or D.O.T. certifications to transport ethanol


A tanker truck spills not only bring the risk of explosive and deadly fires but also severe 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, there is a high risk of suffering a catastrophic burning of 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 severe 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.

Ethanol can cause 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.

Concerning the long-term effects, ethanol inhalation is similar to alcohol consumption, meaning long-term exposure can negatively affect an individual’s liver.

Although it is unlikely after an accident, pregnant women have several risks 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.

Trucking companies should take every precaution to prevent a spill. But, 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 wonder about your options.

But, in most instances, if a trucking company committed an act of negligence and caused a tanker truck spill, accident victims could pursue compensation for their injuries.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of an ethanol truck spill, you need solid legal aid to get the compensation you deserve. Your best option is to speak to someone who can explain your rights and outline how to pursue compensation.
The lawyers of The Truck Accident Law Firm are known as “The Truck Accident Dream Team,” servicing Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, New York, and Texas, focusing specifically on truck accident injury law. Over the years, we’ve achieved successful verdicts for our clients because we are Board-Certified Trucking Lawyers.

Our trucking attorneys have over 50 years of combined legal experience in this field and have achieved multi-million dollar settlements for our clients.

Obtaining results as a truck accident lawyer requires hard work. The attorneys at The Truck Accident Law Firm are second to none.

Each attorney has an extensive background in Truck Accidents, from taking cases to trial and winning, going to truck driving school, writing a book on truck accident litigation, to nationwide guest lecture seminars on teaching other lawyers how to win a truck accident lawsuit. Each of our attorneys tries their cases personally. We are not afraid to take a case to trial.

Truck crash cases are all we focus on at The Truck Accident Law Firm. Our attorneys have been to truck driving school and obtained a CDL as part of our becoming Certified Truck Accident Attorneys. We sincerely believe almost every commercial vehicle crash is preventable and it is our goal to make the roads safer for everyone through educational efforts.

Our team has litigated hundreds of truck accident cases in federal and state courts, and we have obtained over $100 Million in verdicts and settlements for our clients.

Trust, Compassion, and Results that is what we are made of.

We would like to hear your response and opinion on allowing this change, which could be putting safety secondary to attempting to alleviate the supply and demand situation.

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