Train Derails, Creates Chemical Spill

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 @ 03:10 PM gHale


Hazardous materials workers from three major railroad companies secured the scene of a train derailment and resulting spill of a combustible chemical south of Superior, MN, Tuesday.

“We have contained the single leaking rail car, which was hauling octene, a liquid solvent used in plastic production,” said Union Pacific spokeswoman Calli Hite. Union Pacific owns and operates the train that derailed.

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There were no injuries in the result of the Monday incident, a few miles south of Superior on State Highway 35. Authorities closed a portion of Highway 35 while local fire departments responded to the four-car derailment and subsequent octene spill.

A coupler on one of the cars punctured a derailed tanker, causing the spill, said Town of Superior Volunteer Fire Department Chief Darryl Fiegle.

“Crews from BNSF, Canadian National and Union Pacific are working together to contain the leak and mitigate any spill and also on the removal of the downed cars,” Fiegle said Tuesday.

Federal Railroad Administration spokeswoman Tiffany Lindemann said the agency was aware of the incident and had inspectors on site to evaluate the situation.

The National Transportation Safety Board also was made aware of the incident, said spokesman Peter Knudson, but after studying the derailment and chemical release decided not to open an investigation of its own.

A Town of Superior fire crew was first alerted to the scene at 11:45 p.m. Monday. When they arrived the crew of the train advised the firefighters of the materials aboard the train, and had been monitoring the amount of flow of the spilled octene.

There are no homes immediately adjacent to where the derailment occurred. The homes closest to the scene — about a half-mile away — were in no danger, Fiegle said.

There was no immediate word on what might have caused the derailment. A Union Pacific investigation also is underway, Hite said, adding the southbound train was headed from the Itasca yard in Superior to Des Moines, Iowa, and was hauling mixed freight.

As of Tuesday morning, the cars remained on the scene of the derailment as teams of cleanup workers from the railroad companies took over what was a slow-going hazardous materials cleanup effort.

The Superior Fire Department’s HazMat team went to the scene immediately to contain the spill, Fiegle said.

Superior Battalion Chief Erik Sutton called it a “slow process” to get things cleaned up.

The highway remained closed for about five hours, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also was among the agencies that responded to the incident.

According to the online chemistry database PubChem, octene is a colorless liquid; while it floats on water, its vapors are heavier than air and may settle in depressions. It’s reported to biodegrade slowly. Workers at the site were wearing respirators.

While combustible, Fiegle said octene doesn’t reach its flash point until 70 degrees; temperatures in the area early Tuesday were in the 20s. Octene also can be an irritant of the lungs, skin and eyes, he said, “but nothing anyone in the area needs to worry about.”

Fiegle said octene is an oily substance used in the production of polyethylene, a form of plastic.



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