Samples Show No Link from Derailment to Fish Kill

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 said on June 26 that cleanup at the site of a Canadian National (CN) freight train derailment in Rockford, Ill., is well under way.

The incident occurred June 19, when 14 tanker cars containing a 95 percent ethanol-5 percent gasoline product derailed at South Mulford Road north of Sandy Hollow Road. Twelve of the tanker cars caught fire, resulting in one fatality. An estimated 55,000 to 75,000 gallons of the product was released from the derailed tank cars. Most of it burned up at the scene. An undetermined quantity of the product flowed into an unnamed creek that leads to the Rock River.

CN contractors excavated about 750 tons of contaminated soil from the derailment site under EPA and Illinois EPA oversight. The material was sent to local landfills. Runoff water from the site is being controlled to minimize further impacts. Preliminary sampling of a drinking water supply near the derailment site was conducted by EPA with no impacts found.

Illinois EPA will follow up with additional sampling and monitoring. Work at the clean-up site including air monitoring is expected to continue for several weeks.

Beginning June 20, a substantial fish kill was reported across a 50-mile swath of the Rock River, from two miles above Grand Detour to the Prophetstown, Ill. area. Thus far, a relationship has not been established between the two incidents. From June 21 to 25, once the fire-fighting activities at the derailment site ended, dozens of surface water samples from the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers and the affected creek were collected by Illinois EPA. All of these samples have failed to confirm the presence of ethanol or its constituent chemicals. The sampling effort has not ruled out the possibility that a now-diluted plume of ethanol was present prior to June 21.

EPA and its public health and natural resource agency partners are continuing to evaluate a range of factors that may have contributed to the fish kill. Water analysis since the derailment shows that dissolved oxygen levels are within expected normal ranges. Low oxygen levels are a common contributor to fish kills.

Illinois Department of Public Health does not recommend restrictions on the consumption of fish in relation to the CN derailment, beyond the health advisories previously established for the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers.

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IDPH does warn the public of the risk of increased bacteria levels in river waters from decomposing fish lying in and along the river banks. IDPH urges the public to avoid water contact activities, including skiing, tubing, and wading, until the decomposition process is complete and both rivers have had time to flush the decaying matter.

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