Shahady teaches environmental science at Lynchburg College and keeps a close eye on local water quality.
He says the oil released during Wednesday's derailment will likely have an impact on fish and other organisms in the James.
"These organisms are going to accumulate some of the oil and put it into their flesh. If someone does eat the fish, there may be some concerns," Shahady said.
Shahady says the impact may be lessened by this week's heavy rainfall.
There's a lot more water in the James River than usual, and it's flowing a lot faster, which is diluting the oil.
"We've got so much water going through here that it's having a much greater dilution effect than it would if the river was at a lower stage," Shahady said.
Although investigators haven't determined a cause for Wednesday's derailment, Shahady believes heavy rains may have played a role.
Because so much of Lynchburg is paved over, storm water drains to creeks and rivers instead of soaking into the ground.
Shahady says that's causing a lot of erosion on waterways, like the James River.
"If the instability we've seen in Lynchburg is occurring here, that could have caused the tracks to become unstable and led to the derailment,” Shahady said.
Erosion is one of many factors the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. They have a team of specialists on site who are gathering facts about Wednesday’s crash.
That phase of the investigation could last a few days or possibly a few weeks.
CSX has established a community outreach center for residents and businesses at the Wingate Hotel, which is at 3777 Candlers Mountain Road.
Main Street and Commerce Street re-opened Thursday. Police closed those roads Wednesday as a part of the evacuation zone.
Workers at Griffin Pipe Products on 7th Street were stuck at the plant Wednesday after the derailment. Those workers couldn't leave for hours because the derailed train blocked the path.
"We had to get evacuated out," plant worker Daniel Tinsley said. "We had to walk down the railroad yard about a half a mile or so to get to our cars so we could leave."
One man who regularly fishes in the James River near where the derailment said that bad weather Wednesday could be the biggest reason why there were no injuries or deaths.
"On a nice day, nine times out of 10 there would have been people setting out there fishing. It could have been bad for them," Jesse Irvin said.
In close coordination with first responders and investigative agencies, CSX has completed the safe removal of the non-derailed cars from the scene of the Lynchburg, Va., derailment. This alleviated blocked road crossings in the community and provided personnel better access to the derailed cars. Efforts continue to re-rail the remaining cars.
The company is cooperating fully with all investigators on site to understand the cause and impact of this incident. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation on-scene and will hold a news conference today at noon ET. The press conference will be held at Lynchburg City Hall, 900 Church Street, in the City Council Chambers.
CSX is also implementing a comprehensive environmental assessment and protection effort that includes land-, air- and water-based assessments of potential impacts from the derailment, including measures to prevent dispersal of any contents from the train that may have entered the James River. This work is being done in coordination with federal, state and local environmental authorities.
The CSX Community Outreach Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Wingate Hotel, 3777 Candlers Mountain Road, to provide assistance to residents and businesses impacted by this derailment. In addition, citizens can contact 1-877-TELL CSX (1-877-835-5279) for assistance. CSX continues to appreciate the support and assistance of the Lynchburg Fire Department, Lynchburg Police Department, and additional first responders from surrounding communities who are helping to ensure public safety.