Fluoride Action Network

Train derailment: Workers begin unloading thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals from derailed tank cars in southwestern Louisville

Source: The Courier-Journal | November 13th, 2012 | By Mark Boxley
Location: United States, Kentucky
Industry type: Miscellaneous

With Dixie Highway closed again in southwestern Jefferson County and 31 nearby homes evacuated, the unloading of tens of thousands of gallons of dangerous chemicals from derailed rail cars began Tuesday and is expected to continue for at least three days.

The evacuation and the closure of Dixie Highway from Ky. 44 to the Salt River Bridge will continue until all the chemicals from six derailed tank cars are removed from the scene, said Doug Hamilton, director of the Louisville Metro Emergency Management Agency.

The hope is to finish by Friday, Hamilton said.

The evacuation and road closure was announced Monday, and the Paducah & Louisville Railway is putting evacuated residents up in a Holiday Inn and a Golden Manor Inn on Dixie Highway. The evacuees are also being paid $100 a day for each adult and $50 a day for each child for the duration of the evacuation.

Residents within a half-mile radius of the derailment site were asked to evacuate their homes by 6 a.m. Tuesday so highly toxic hydrogen fluoride and flammable butadiene could be offloaded from the derailed cars.

Mud from recent rain delayed Tuesday’s start, but crews began to empty a butadiene car around 11:30 a.m.

The latest evacuation frustrated people living nearby, who said they were worried more hazardous chemicals could leak into the air, and were upset about how the derailment was disrupting their lives and their livelihoods.

“The whole thing is kind of scary because you don’t know what’s going on up there and how safe you are,” said West Point resident Marillyn Steinmacher.

The evacuation zone takes in a small part of the town east of 4th Street, she said, with residents on one side gone and residents on the other side still living in their homes. She works as a waitress at Rhonda’s Country Kitchen, which is on the evacuation side and is closed until further notice.

“That’s been a hardship,” she said.

She said her husband of 46 years, Donald Steinmacher, was very sick and had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks ago after being on life support because of lung problems, and she was worried the road closings would make it difficult for an ambulance to get to him or another resident if needed. Her husband has a doctor’s appointment Thursday in Louisville and it will require a long detour to get there.

“You just don’t know from day to day what’s going to take place,” she said.

The Oct. 29 derailment involved 13 Paducah & Louisville Railway cars that careened off the tracks that morning. The Federal Railway Administration is investigating the accident and said Monday it may take as long as a year to determine the cause of the derailment.

Two R.J. Corman workers and an employee of the railway were injured two days after the derailment when a blowtorch ignited butadiene, sparking a fire that burned for days and forced the evacuation of people living within five miles, including all of West Point.

Unloading the chemicals and removing the damaged cars is expected to take about eight hours per car, said Jody Duncan, spokeswoman for Louisville Metro Emergency Management.

As during previous evacuations, a no-fly zone was put in effect around the site Tuesday, and Ohio River traffic has been stopped while the chemicals are unloaded from the tank cars.

Louisville Emergency Management said just before 6 p.m. that the first butadiene rail tank car was unloaded and work on a second butadiene car would continue through the evening, after which they hoped to lift the air and barge restrictions.

Then beginning at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, it said two hydrogen fluoride cars would be unloaded, and the air and barge traffic restrictions would go into effect again.

The chemicals, once emptied from the wrecked tank cars and transferred to other cars, will be taken to their original destinations. The butadiene was being taken to American Synthetic Rubber in Rubbertown and the hydrogen fluoride was bound for a DuPont chemical plant in Louisville.

Officials are limiting the number of workers in the “hot zone” to fewer than 20 while they monitor air quality. When Hamilton spoke Tuesday afternoon, none of the 13 air quality monitors had detected any sort of leak, he said.

Reporter Mark Boxley can be reached at (502) 582-4241. Reporter Harold Adams contributed to this story.

Caption under photo:
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has again closed Dixie Highway, also known as US 31W, between Abbotts Beach Road and the City of West Point as worker begin to unload train cars of toxic liquids and gases in Louisville, Kentucky November 13, 2012 evacuees / John Sommers II/Special to The Courier-Journal