Dangerous chemical leak closes Dixie Highway


by WHAS11


Posted on October 29, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 4 at 2:52 PM

Train Derailment

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Twelve hours after a train derailment leaked a dangerous chemical in Southwest Jefferson County, Dixie Highway is shut down at Highway 44 and residents of twelve homes remain under  a mandatory evacuation order.

According to officials, the CODE RED emergency status has been lifted along with air restrictions and river restrictions. EMA officials have turned the command of incident over to private contractor for clean up, but they won't move anything in the dark. Dixie Highway remains closed and 12 residences are still evacuated.

Photos: Sky11 over the derailment

No injuries are reported, no cause has been identified and hazmat crews have not specified how much butadiene leaked, saying only a "relatively small amount" was involved.  Butadiene is a liquid that turns into a gas which is flammable and can be dangerous if inhaled.

Affected residents can call The American Red Cross at 561-3642. A shelter is available at the Nichols Fire Station, 130 Merkel Lane.

Eleven of the 57 Paducah and Louisville (P & L) rail cars en route to several destinations in Louisville derailed on a stretch of track between the Ohio River and Dixie Highway.  Air monitoring systems detected a butadiene leak from one rail car, triggering a level 3 Hazmat situation, meaning it posed a "significant risk to public health and the environment."

There were 57 cars involved, nine were empty and 10 derailed. Entry teams found that only one tanker leaking butadiene.

"The spill obviously is contained at this point," said Rick Harrison of the Metro Hazmat Team, adding that the butadiene leak appeared to have stopped on its own.  He expected emergency crews to remain on the scene until after 8 p.m. before the derailment site was safe to turn over to clean-up crews.

A CODE RED reverse 911 call alerted 32 residences in the immediate area to a mandatory evacuation after the derailment about 6 a.m. Monday morning.  Later, another CODE RED call told people in a two mile radius around the derailment to stay inside and turn off HVAC systems that draw in outside air. The Coast Guard limited traffic on the Ohio, more than 120 emergency workers responded, plus the Fed Railway Admin, US EPA, air monitoring trucks from Louisville International Airport and the NTSB is aware.  Homes on Abbots Beach Road and on Katherine Station Road have been evacuated. Officials are also calling for residents on Dixie Beach to voluntarily evacuate their homes.

The P & L railroad says the leaking tanker is full - 30,000 gallons of the toxic and flammable butadiene.  Hazmat crews say only a relatively small amount actually leaked.

"But it's always a threat when it gets into the waterway and goes downstream further," Harrison said, "The same is true of Dixie Highway. We want to keep the vehicular traffic down so we don't have ignition sources introduced into the area where we have a leak."

"Catalytic converters on the bottoms of cars are really hot, backfired vehicles, any spark, somebody throws a cigarette out the window, anything like that can lead to an ignition of those vapors," Harrison added.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Harrison said the result is a "best case scenario" after a chemical spill.

"Absolutely.  The fact that we've had no fire, no ignition source get to the product that's leaking is the biggest advantage we've had all day," Harrison explained.  "The winds are continuing to move those vapors away and dissipate them rather quickly."

Important information: Shelter set-up following train derailment

The reopening of Dixie Highway, however, will not be quick - probably shut down until after Tuesday morning's rush hour - prolonging the commute for Dixie drivers, like Paul Peak - who drives Dixie to Louisville from Meade County.

"I usually come straight down Dixie Highway. I usually come through West Point to get here.  But this morning I had to go up to the Joe Prather (Highway) around that away to get in this morning to get here.  More gas money. That's the main thing."

Dixie Highway will remain closed while railroad workers offload the butadiene into a replacement tanker, a 14 hour process, Harrison said.

After that, "they can start the actual clean-up of removing the soil that's contaminated and any earth that needs to be dealt with," Harrison added.

Due to the train derailment on Katherine Station Road in Jefferson County, motorists on southbound US 31W (Dixie Highway) should detour via I-265 east to I-65 south. Northbound Dixie Highway should detour via KY 313 (Joe Prather Highway) in Hardin County to I-65 north.

According to the Paducah and Louisville Railroad spokesperson, they have not had an accident comparable to this in more than 20 years.