Illinois EPA refers railroad to Attorney General for enforcement

By on August 5, 2009

Agency alleges environmental damage from ethanol spill
SPRINGFIELD—Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Doug Scott has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office to proceed with enforcement action against Illinois Central Railroad Co., d/b/a Canadian National/Illinois Central Railroad, as a result of a recent train derailment which resulted in a large ethanol release causing fires and contamination of the waters of the state.

On Friday, June 19, 2009, a 114-car Canadian National train was traveling east from Freeport to Chicago when 14 tank cars, each of which contained 30,000 gallons of a mixture of 95-97 percent ethanol and 3-5 percent gasoline, derailed sometime between about 8:35 p.m. and 8:50 p.m., at the Mulford Road Crossing (mile post 80) in the southeast section of Rockford, Ill. and Perryville, Ill.

Twelve of the derailed cars caught on fire, and it is believed that the majority of these cars’ contents (about 360,000 gallons) were consumed in the blaze. The two other derailed tanker cars that did not burn were compromised and released their contents. An estimated quantity of 55,000 to 75,000 gallons of ethanol was released to the surrounding ballast and soils and into a nearby creek that is a tributary to the Kishwaukee River.

The response ultimately involved at least 26 fire departments. While some of the fire was extinguished by water, local fire officials determined that the best course of action was to let the ethanol burn to minimize impact on the nearby creek. The intense fire caused the death of one motorist and seven to nine others went to the hospital. About 600 homes in the surrounding half mile area were evacuated out of a concern for potential vapor releases, explosions and fire.

On Sunday, June 21, a fish kill was identified by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources into Whiteside County. The IDNR believes that the fish kill is related to the ethanol spill that originated in Rockford; however, this has not been confirmed as of this date.

The Illinois EPA has requested that the Illinois Attorney General require Canadian National perform certain activities to remedy any environmental damage. This would include implementing a sampling plan for the soils and groundwater in the area where the derailment and fire took place, as well as the path the liquid ethanol traveled from the derailed tank cars that did not burn to the creek that led to the Kishwaukee River. Canadian National must also submit all results the Illinois EPA, and perform necessary cleanups.

In addition, Canadian National must conduct a well survey of community water supply and private wells in the area, arrange for sampling of these wells and, if needed, provide an alternative source of drinking water. Canadian National should conduct sampling of dead fish to conclusively determine whether the fish kill was attributable to the release of ethanol. The Railroad must also submit an aquatic restocking plan for the Rock River and the Kishwaukee River. Canadian National should perform all necessary repairs to property damaged by the derailment.