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Contamination concerns surface at Tiskilwa derailment site

TISKILWA — An excavation hazard notice has been sent to property owners of a three-acre area surrounding the 2011 train derailment site just east of Tiskilwa.

According to that notice sent out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the impacted groundwater is generally located 13 to 15 feet below the ground surface. No residences or commercial buildings are located in this area. The area of impacted shallow groundwater includes agriculture fields and railroad right-of-way.

The Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) is working with the IEPA to develop appropriate signage for the area, according to Michelle Tebrugge, IEPA community relations coordinator.

The contaminated area is the result of a train derailment and subsequent fire which happened at about 2:19 a.m. Oct. 7, 2011, when a train operated by the Iowa Interstate Railroad derailed multiple rail cars about one-half mile east of Tiskilwa on the Bottom Road. Approximately nine of those derailed tank cars carrying ethanol caught on fire. An estimated 50 fire departments plus multiple ambulance units responded to the emergency site. Officials recommended an evacuation of Tiskilwa from State Street eastward, followed by an advisory evacuation of the remaining portion of the town. There were no injuries reported from the incident site or community.

According to the excavation hazard notice issued by the IEPA, it has been recently-documented that certain levels of ethanol and methane in groundwater may result in methane gas transferring from groundwater into the soil. Methane gas in the soil could produce an explosive soil/gas mixture in a confined space and an ignition source is present.

The notice reads, in part, as follows:

“Therefore, the Illinois EPA cautions against anyone digging or excavating, as well as doing any trenching or doing any underground or partly underground work, which would create a confined space within the three-acre area. Please note that this explosion hazard only pertains to this specific three-acre area of concern.”

Since the October 2011 derailment, the IAIS has conducted environmental investigations in the immediate vicinity of the train derailment release, as required through an Agreed Interim Order, dated Oct. 31, 2012, to determine the extent of any remaining impact to the soils and groundwater beneath the surface, Tebrugge said. The results of those investigations indicate shall groundwater in the vicinity of the release remains impacted. Ethanol and methane, which can be a by-product of the degradation of ethanol, have been found at elevated levels in the shallow groundwater.

According to the excavation hazard release, the IAIS has committed to work with the IEPA to develop an appropriate cleanup strategy to address the risks posed by the ethanol and methane contamination resulting from the derailment. Also, the IAIS will continue during 2013 to do quarterly sampling of monitoring wells around the impacted area to monitor the shallow groundwater.

For additional information or answers to questions, people may contact Tebrugge at 217-524-4825. Informational materials, including documents pertaining to the ongoing investigation and the clean-up, are available at the Tiskilwa Public Library.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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