Homes Evacuated After Ethanol Spill in Mississippi River

ALMA, WI – Of 32 BNSF train cars that hurtled off the tracks near Alma, Wis., on Saturday, Nov 7th, five of them broke open and spilled at least 18,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River, the railroad company said.

Four damaged tanker cars leaked an estimated five to 500 gallons of ethanol each and a fifth one released about 18,000 gallons, BNSF said in a statement. A full tank car holds about 30,000 gallons.

The effect of the spill on river habitat below Lake Pepin remains unknown, but reports after previous spills indicate that ethanol alone is less toxic than ethanol mixed with gasoline.

The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act prohibits the use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, such as the ones involved in the Alma derailment. The main line is expected to be clear at 6 p.m.

“The leaking vehicle has now been sealed, spilled product was contained and siphoned off, and no product has reached waterways”, Cummings said. Berry said preliminary reports indicate less than 1,000 gallons of oil spilled and all of it will be hauled away and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.

Late Sunday night, the company said 35 homes had been evacuated as a precaution, and that it had reserved hotel rooms for the families who lived in them.

Up to 150 people left their homes during the evacuation, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Colin Severson said. It said there is no threat to the public. Everyone has since returned to their homes.

The regulations also require that the track be inspected visually twice a week, and officials said they inspect the track three times a week.

BNSF Railway crews are working near Alma at the site of the November 7 freight train derailment and continue re-railing the cars and repairing the tracks.

The spills have caused vast damage to the environment and USA regulatory authorities have been called upon to take immediate action, in order to minimize such accidents in the future. There were no injuries. Hundreds of gallons of crude oil spilled from one tanker.

Crews from BNSF stopped the leaks from all five cars, placed a containment boom along the shoreline and began removing ethanol from the cars, said railway spokeswoman Amy McBeth. Working with cranes and winches, crews hoped to clear the tracks and reopen service along that stretch of rail line by Monday, she added. On average, 45 to 50 trains travel that route in a 24-hour period.