Officials continue investigation of Illinois train derailment

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2011

The Illinois EPA has filed a request with the state attorney general asking for a judicial order that would require Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd. to conduct an investigation of environmental impacts associated with an Oct. 7 train derailment that resulted in a massive ethanol tank car fire. 

The IEPA is investigating potential water contamination as a result of the incident and wants the railroad operator to also investigate the impacts on groundwater and the threat posed by subsurface migration from two local creeks into the Illinois River. Additionally, the EPA has requested that Iowa Interstate be required to install a network of permanent groundwater monitoring wells to trace the movement of ethanol and other products contained in the fuel from the incident site through the subsurface over time. The agency has also asked the company to propose measures to clean any residual contamination in the soil, groundwater and surface water, and is seeking reimbursement from the railroad for expenses incurred as a result of the incident.

An IEPA spokesman said the referral request is in line with compliance measures established in the Illinois Environmental Protection Act. IEPA officials are continuing to monitor the area of the derailment near Tiskilwa in northwest Illinois and are awaiting analysis from air and groundwater samples before determining whether additional violations will be referred to the attorney general’s office. A spokesman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan said that her environmental team is in the process of reviewing the IEPA’s initial referral request.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board immediately dispatched a team to investigate the accident but has not yet released any findings. Area residents reported seeing work being conducted on the railroad in the days leading up to the incident, but it’s unclear whether that was a factor in the derailment. The incident occurred at about 2:15 a.m., and involved 131 railcars pulled by two locomotives. The 26 cars that derailed were hauling a combination of ethanol and distillers grains from an Archer Daniels Midland Co. facility. Seven of the nine ethanol cars caught fire, resulting in the temporary evacuation of all 745 residents of nearby Tiskilwa. No deaths or injuries occurred as a result of the incident.