A derailed train near Alma, Wisconsin has caused ethanol to leak into the Mississippi River, authorities have reported.
The BNSF Railway freight train which was heading south went off the tracks at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday. The accident occurred near Interstate 35, approximately 30 minutes southeast of Lake City, and around 2 miles north of Alma, a west-central Wisconsin town along the Mississippi River.
Of the 32 derailed cars which turned into a jumbled pile of metal, 10 were empty auto carriers, while others were tanker cars carrying ethanol.
A few of the carriers remained upright, while others collapsed to one side. However, 5 were partially submerged in the river, and denatured alcohol pouring from their top vents eventually reached the water.
BNSF officials haven’t yet determined how significant the spill has become, and what long-term consequences it will have on the local ecosystem and the inhabitants nearby.
It is believed that in contrast with oil, the substance will turn into vapors on its own, but it could still affect marine life, representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services have warned.
Denatured alcohol, which is used as a fuel and a solvent, contains additives such as methanol in order to discourage consumption. Therefore, it’s usually poisonous, extremely foul smelling and bad tasting. It has the potential to diminish oxygen levels in the river, which could cause many fish and other aquatic species to die.
Efforts are underway in order to contain the contamination, and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been providing assistance in dealing with the toxic chemical.
A voluntary evacuation order was initially issued, and approximately 150 people had to abandon their houses for safety reasons, reported Colin Severson, the Chief Sheriff’s Deputy.
The locals gathered at Alma’s American Legion Hall, located on 501 North Main street, and a command center was established at Alma’s Elementary School, on Dugway Road.
As a Buffalo County sheriff’s dispatcher has explained, the evacuation warning was canceled at approximately 2 p.m, and residents were able to return back to their grounds. Also, portions of highways 35 and 37 which had been closed following the incident have been reopened.
An investigation is currently conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration, in order to discover the cause of the accident, and to assess the overall damages at the spillage area.
According to BNSF delegates, no injuries have been reported, and the leakage doesn’t pose any immediate risk to the locals. Also, it appears that no smoke or fire has been detected at the scene either.
For now, the freight railroad network’s spokesperson, Amy McBeth, has declared that it can’t be estimated how long it would take to complete a full cleanup of the river.
Similarly, it’s unclear exactly when the railway will become operational again, but heavy machinery has been brought so as to remove the derailed cars and restore the area back to normal.
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