Hazmat situation improves but not resolved; evacuation order still in effect


by WHAS11


Posted on November 1, 2012 at 6:23 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 2:56 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- On the fourth day of dealing with a train derailment that has become a hazmat situation that led to the evacuation of a five mile area, emergency managers are placing blame on P & L Railroad for giving them inaccurate information.

Officials continue to express confidence that the fire is now burning but controlled, unlikely to encroach upon two Hydrogen Fluoride tankers, gas, which if released, presents the greatest problem.  

An update will come as early as 4 a.m. Friday and an official release will come around 10 a.m. Monday as officials have backed off to 24-hour operational updates. The latest operational shift will end 6 p.m. Friday after beginning at the same time Thursday evening.

Thursday evening officials vacuumed leaked Styrene and unloaded plastic pellets from the derailed tankers.

Click here to see images of Monday's derailment.

"At some point, I suspect the media would like representatives of P & L to be accountable for what has occurred," said Jefferson County EMA Director Doug Hamilton.

"We have not been given a legitimate reason of why the information they gave us is inaccurate," said Pleasure Ridge Park VFD Chief Vince Smith.
Emergency managers say P & L officials told them only trace amounts of Butadiene were inside a tanker that caught fire on Wednesday as crews were cutting its walls with a torch to move it off the tracks.

P & L Spokesperson Gerald Gupton addressed the situation for the first time late Thursday afternoon.

"We were given the most accurate information we had at the time under the conditions. That's what we were doing.The most accurate information we had at the time," said Gupton.

Gupton placed the blame on the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), a private consulting firm brought in from Arkansas to monitor and measure air levels for chemicals. Gupton said CTEH gave the go-ahead to railroad workers and contractors to use an acetylene torch, commonly used to cut metal, to separate two tankers in order to begin the process of moving them out of the area. Instead the torch ignited the residual butadiene gas and is still burning as of news time Thursday night, 34 hours after a flashover explosion started.

The incident injured five workers, sending three to University Hospital with massive injuries and threatening a tanker just 10 feet away, filled with highly volatile Hydrogen Fluoride, a known corrosive gas that can eat through human tissue and bones.

"That is the greatest risk to us. The greatest risk to the community," said Hamilton. "It's one of the more corrosive gases that are in industry. So this is as bad as it gets as far as a hazmat incident if it were to be released," said an EPA spokesperson .

A total of seven tanker cars filled with dangerous chemicals derailed.

Those included butadiene, hydrogen fluoride, sodium hydroxide and methyl isobutyl ketone.
Earlier, more than a thousand gallons of water a minute was being dumped on the burning tanker car to keep nearby tankers from exploding.

"The 1.2 mile evacuation order is still in effect and will remain in effect while the work continues on the controlled burn," said Hamilton.

The five mile shelter in place order was lifted Thursday afternoon and all restrictions pertaining to vessels on the Ohio River and airspace were also lifted. The 1.2 mile evacuation zone is still in place due to the controlled burn, according to Doug Hamilton, executive director of MetroSafe, at their 3:30 p.m. news conference.

Officials have increased concern about the amount of water runoff containing chemicals into the Ohio and Salt Rivers and have promised to begin water sampling as early as Thursday including a full investigation. They put up a dam on the Salt River Wednesday but also believe the threat to the Ohio is possible.

Specialized equipment will be introduced for the first time Friday to begin to level derailed tankers, which must happen before the dangerous chemicals can be drained from the cars. That was originally set to begin Wednesday before the fire started.

Emergency officials don't have an estimate as to when the hazmat situation will be resolved.
Three schools near the site were closed Thursday: Watson Elementary and  Frost Middle schools in Jefferson County and Nichols Elementary in Bullitt County. We are told that Nichols Elementary will remain closed Friday but JCPS schools will be open.

Interview: Mike Raisor, JCPS Chief Operations Officer

According to reports, crews were using an acetylene torch when an "arc flashed" and ignited butadiene vapors from one of the cars. Two workers refused treatment at the scene and three others were transported to the hospital. The injured workers suffered second and third degree burns over 90 percent of their bodies. One worker is in fair condition and another is in serious condition as of Friday morning. University of Louisville Hospital and EMA officials confirmed another worker in fair condition is set to be released.

During a news conference Thursday morning officials said they are most concerned with keeping flames away from  two cars loaded with hydrogen fluoride. Hydrogen fluoride is an highly corrosive gas that attacks moist membranes, one official said. The fire is under control and said they will let it burn itself out because putting water on the vapors could prove dangerous and toxic to surrounding soil.

"Most critical to us are the hydrogen fluoride cars. That is the greatest risk to us, the greatest risk to the community. Keeping them cool throughout the night and keeping any fire from impinging them," Doug Hamilton, MetroSafe executive director, said.

WHAS11 talked to Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar about the dangers of chemicals after the train derailment, click here to watch.

Nine tankers being hauled by the train are loaded with dangerous chemicals. Two of them are carrying hydrogen fluoride but are not leaking. Three tankers have butadiene with one car leaking.
"Hydrogen fluoride is a corrosive gas that it would attack any moist areas including mucous membranes and it does so aggressively. It is one of the more corrosive gases in the industry," said Art Smith, with U.S. EPA.

EPA officials are working with DuPont and emergency management to monitor chemical levels and see if they can remove the two tankers with Hydrogen fluoride from the wreck safely.
They will also measure environmental readings from the Salt and Ohio rivers.

During the news conference, Doug Hamilton, executive director of MetroSafe, expressed frustration with P&L officials. Hamilton said he was provided "quite obviously incorrect information" about how much hazardous material was on the train and at the site.