Nearly a day after a train carrying a highly flammable chemical derailed and burst into flames in a small city in southwestern Minnesota, crews were still working overnight to extinguish the flames as officials reassure residents the groundwater and air are safe.
Of the 22 cars that derailed in Raymond, Minnesota, Thursday morning, four containing ethanol ruptured and caught fire, the US Environmental Protection Agency said. Other cars carrying the substance were also at risk of releasing the chemical, the EPA said.
Other cars that derailed contained corn syrup, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office said.
The EPA is at the crash site and has been monitoring the air for particulate matter and other compounds, noting there hasn’t been severe impact to the community so far.
“EPA has not found any (particulate matter) levels of concern in the community and so far, low levels below health concerns of (volatile organic compounds) have been detected only immediately downwind of the cars in a non-populated area,” the agency said Thursday afternoon.
Train operator BNSF Railway did not find any impact to drinking water, and air monitoring conducted throughout the morning hours showed no levels of concern, it said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The response to the derailment and fire included 28 fire departments, including several volunteer departments who remained on scene late Thursday, the sheriff’s office said in a post online. No injuries have been reported.
BNSF crews are also working to clear the scene, the sheriff’s office said, noting they had begun to remove rail cars so they can better access those with “active flames.”
A team from the National Transportation Safety Board was dispatched to the crash site to investigate, the board said.
The derailment happened around 1 a.m. Thursday in Raymond, a small city of some 800 residents.
Homes within a half-mile of the derailment were evacuated, but the order was lifted later in the day, according to the sheriff’s office.
The derailment in Minnesota comes less than two months after a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals crashed in the Ohio community of East Palestine.
The blaze burned for days, and toxic chemicals were released into the air and killed thousands of fish. Many residents there have complained of health problems after the derailment and raised concerns about the impact of the chemicals.
In Minnesota, preliminary information from the crash suggested 14 of the train’s 40 cars were carrying hazardous materials, “including ethanol, which was released – leading to a fire,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN Thursday morning.
Ethanol can explode when mixed with vapor and air. Exposure to ethanol can lead to coughing, dizziness, the feeling of burning eyes, drowsiness and unconsciousness.
“Ethanol, like many chemicals, can be toxic if inhaled or comes into contact with skin or is ingested. But it requires a certain concentration to be a health hazard,” said Purdue University professor Andrew Whelton, an expert in environmental chemistry and water quality.
Ethanol is highly soluble in water, meaning it will be relatively easy to dilute.
“Dilution is one way to reduce the risk” of health issues from any water that may be contaminated with ethanol, Whelton said.