Railroad responsible for ethanol spill clean-up

By Kris Bevill | July 08, 2009
Report posted July 14, 2009, at 12:29 p.m. CST

Canadian National Railway Co. and its subsidiary, Chicago, Central & Pacific Railroad, will be required by Illinois to perform environmental cleanup for a June 19 derailment near Rockford, Ill., that resulted in the leakage of up to 75,000 gallons of ethanol into the surrounding soil and nearby waterways.

According to a lawsuit filed July 10 by the Illinois attorney general and the Winnebago County state's attorney, the railway should be held responsible for environmental violations that occurred as a result of the train derailment. According to the filing, the suit was filed to protect the affected area and nearby residents from damage caused by the intense fire and ethanol release into private water wells and community water supplies.

"It is imperative that we take quick action to assess the environmental damage from this dangerous derailment and put an immediate clean-up plan in place," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. "We are working to ensure that all possible steps are taken to protect the residents of this area and the environment."

Patrick Waldron, a CN spokesman, said the company would conduct environmental cleanup regardless of a lawsuit requiring them to do so. "Since the derailment happened on June 19, we've been working closely with state and federal agencies and have been, and remain, committed to an environmentally-sensitive cleanup," he said.

The cause of the derailment remains under investigation, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Although hydroplaning is suspected as the cause, the investigation is not expected to be completed until next year.

The court order requires Chicago, Central & Pacific to immediately begin remediation at the derailment site and to continue to do so until the Illinois EPA determines there is no longer a threat to public health or the environment. The rail company must also submit soil and groundwater contamination sampling results to the state EPA office by Aug. 10 as well as conduct a thorough survey of private and community water wells to determine levels of contamination. If samples show unacceptable levels of contamination, the rail company is required to supply affected citizens and businesses with bottled water as a replacement.

A status hearing on the case has been scheduled for Sept. 10.