Iowa Interstate Railroad Train Derailment

Fact Sheet #1
November 2011

Bureau County, Illinois

Introduction

A train derailment on October 7 near Tiskilwa resulted in several railroad cars containing denatured ethanol and corn mash catching on fire and residual materials seeping into the soil. The incident resulted in the temporary evacuation of the entire population of the village of Tiskilwa in Bureau County after the early morning derailment. Some of the cars containing ethanol were breached during the derailment. While some of the ethanol burned off in the fire, an unknown quantity escaped and seeped into the soils putting groundwater at risk. Technical staff from Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (Illinois EPA’s) Emergency Response Unit and the Bureau of Water responded to oversee environmental threats and collected samples, as needed.

The Threat of Contamination

Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) was required to conduct an expedited investigation of impacts on groundwater and the threat posed by subsurface migration toward Plow Hollow Creek and Big Bureau Creek, which ultimately flow into the Illinois River. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office (filed on October 31, 2011) and Bureau County State’s Attorney filed a suit alleging environmental violations occurring in the aftermath of the derailment and subsequent ethanol spill and fire. The Agreed Interim Order specifies IAIS contractors evaluate the nature and extent of contamination in residential and city wells, surface water, groundwater, soil, and air. Illinois EPA has obtained some early sample results from the IAIS contractor. All investigation plans, detailing the sampling protocol and methodology, must be compliant with the specifications in the consent order and must be approved by the Illinois EPA. These plans are currently under Illinois EPA review.

Corrective Action Status

As required by the consent order, Iowa Interstate Railroad is to conduct a water well survey of all nearby residential drinking water wells and community water supplies within one-mile radius of the derailment site. Some private wells close to the site and community water well have been sampled. According to early sample results obtained from United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), at this time, none of these drinking water wells are showing contamination from the release. Monitoring wells located in the immediate area of the release from the railroad cars and downgradient in the direction of groundwater flow indicate increased concentrations of ethanol and denaturant constituents. IAIS contractors are currently preparing to remove ethanol-impacted groundwater underneath the site to reduce the concentrations by installing groundwater recovery wells in the approximate center of the area of impact of the tank car derailment.

In addition, contractors are currently addressing soil contamination by excavating ethanol-impacted soil from the source area to minimize potential human health and flammability exposure concerns to utility, railroad, or roadway workers. Source removal will help limit potential offsite migration of contaminated groundwater that may be impacted by ethanol by limiting the potential leaching of ethanol from soil to groundwater. The areas scheduled for soil removal include the north and south sides of the track bed through the area of impact and will involve excavation to the depth of three feet below grade surface and replacing with compacted clean soil. By doing so, odors will be reduced and a barrier to surface water will be provided.

Stockpiled soil recovered following excavation of the release area and recovered groundwater from recovery wells was removed and disposed in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations.

Next Steps

IAIS is to implement a well survey/sampling event and site investigation upon Illinois EPA review and approval; results from these field activities will then be submitted to Illinois EPA for review. Once the investigation is complete, additional corrective action may be necessary. Reports, including the Agreed Interim Order, will be available to the public upon request and a fact sheet update will be distributed.

For more information, you may contact:

Michelle Tebrugge
Community Relations Coord
Office of Community Relations
Illinois EPA
(217) 524-4825
Banessa Myers
Bureau of Land, State Sites Unit
Illinois EPA
(217) 558-6046