Train derailment impact on river due today


by Sarah Squires

Water sampling and monitoring continues on the Mississippi near Dresbach after the December 17 train derailment which left broken tankers leaking fertilizer into the river.

Dave Morrison of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that departments working on the spill cleanup and monitoring will get a briefing Wednesday from Pinnacle Engineering, the firm hired to collect and analyze the data.

“We have had near daily water quality sampling on the river,” said Morrison of the testing being done related to the spill.

The derailment happened in the early hours on December 17, when two Canadian-Pacific Rail freight trains collided on the tracks between I-90 and the Mississippi River near Dresbach.

The smaller train carrying 15 cars and two locomotives broadsided the larger train, which included 93 cars and three locomotives. The impact derailed 26 cars, 13 from each train. It sent one locomotive into the river, partially submerged, while two cars carrying between 20,000 and 25,000 gallons of a liquid nitrogen fertilizer mixture dangled above the river off an embankment.

The following night those two cars slid down the embankment and began leaking the fertilizer mixture into the river. Officials have estimated that between the two cars, 31,000 gallons of the fertilizer mix spilled into the water. The locomotive that initially fell into the river also leaked diesel fuel into the river, although officials say that is easier to clean up.

The fertilizer was a mixture containing 28 percent liquid nitrogen and a combination of ammonium nitrate and water. The environmental team working on the cleanup, including officials from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, set up eight sampling stations after the freight cars fell into the river and began leaking, including one monitoring station upstream to gather baseline data, two adjacent to the site, four stations about 400 feet from the crash scene and one about a mile downstream.

Wednesday’s water monitoring information will likely show how the river might be impacted by the chemical spill. Liquid nitrogen can damage aquatic wildlife because it causes a process called eutrophication, which promotes excessive plant growth and decay and can lead to increased water turbidity and fish kills. Early reports after the crash show no signs of fish kill downstream from the crash site.

Read the weekend edition of the Winona Post for the full story on the water monitoring test results.


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