FAMILIES evacuated after derailed train cars spill toxic chemicals in Texas town

Monday, August 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PINEHURST, Texas (AP) _ More than 100 families were evacuated from their homes after a train derailed, spilling thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals. No one was injured.

The voluntary evacuations were ordered after the 84-car train of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train en route to Houston from Teague wrecked early Sunday morning. Twenty-one cars crumpled into each other.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Steve Hargett said acetic anhydride and 2-ethylhexyl acrylate, both chemicals used in making plastics and capable of causing respiratory problems, started leaking from three tankers Sunday.

Both chemicals act as irritants to skin, eyes and the lungs, said Sgt. Kevin Pullen. He said monitors were set up to test air quality in the area.

About 11,000 gallons of acetic anhydride and 23,000 gallons of 2-ethylhexyl acrylate spilled, authorities said. Meat tallow and plastic pellets spilled from other cars, but did not pose a danger.

A cleanup was being conducted Monday in this community 34 miles northwest of Houston. The Environmental Protection Agency was monitoring the efforts.

The train apparently derailed after hitting a curve.

``It's not that bad of a curve,'' Jack Corey, who owns ranch land on both sides of the crash site, told the Houston Chronicle in Monday's editions. ``But there's a long straightaway carrying them down there, and they get moving pretty good.''

Ten years ago, a Burlington Northern train derailed at the same curve, said railroad vice president David Freeman. Thirty cars hurtled off the track, spilling tons of wheat Aug. 12, 1991.

Railroad spokesman Jerry Jenkins said that the conductor and engineer, who were unharmed, were tested as standard procedure to see if alcohol or drugs were a factor. Test results were expected later this week.

Authorities had worried that a tanker car carrying benzene was leaking, but after constructing a makeshift roadway through the heavily wooded area to the train, they found the chemical had not spilled.

``The front and the rear portions of the train are intact and still on the track,'' said Cpl. Denise Janeway of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.

She said the cleanup could take days. Crews shut off a gas pipeline that runs parallel to the tracks while workers from a number of other agencies, including the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, concentrated on the spill.

The cleanup was hampered by its location in a wooded area of Montgomery County. Most derailed cars were in the train's midsection.