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Chemical spill is third in as many weeks for rail yard

Oct. 24, 2007 @ 12:08 AM

RACELAND, Ky. -- A third reported leak in as many weeks from the railyards near Raceland shut down a major highway and two school districts Tuesday.

U.S. 23 was reopened shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, and an overnight shelter-in-place order was lifted as repairs were made to a rail car hauling hydrochloric acid.

CSX officials said the leak from the car was minor and no one was injured, but the highway and surrounding area were closed off out of precaution.

"There were three employees who were de-contaminated and taken to a local hospital just to get everything checked out, but no one was hurt," said CSX spokesman Garrick Francis.

Francis said the only contamination responders picked up was around the top of the car, where some loose bolts had allowed the vapor to escape.

"There was no ground-level contamination detected," he said.

That was also the case with the two other reported leaks, though a firefighter was injured in a fall while investigating one of the incidents.

"There has been no public impact," Francis said. "Each time, it's turned out to be something small. But we want to do everything the right way and take all of the necessary precautions.

"We will continue to work with shippers and conduct our inspections of the rail yards to make sure everything is safe."

The problem did create a disruption for area residents, said Greenup County Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter.

"I imagine it caused problems for a lot of people," he said. "Some people couldn't leave their houses to go to work."

All four lanes of U.S. 23 were closed down from Flatwoods through Wurtland, effectively shutting down travel in some of the most populated areas of Greenup County.

Classes were canceled at Raceland-Worthington and Russell schools because of the leak. Greenup County Schools were in session, though Superintendent John Younce said the situation was being monitored all morning, and the school was in frequent contact with Greenup County Disaster and Emergency Services.

"They were updating us about every 20 to 30 minutes," he said. "There was no leak from 6:10 (a.m. Tuesday) on, but we had nine buses on standby to get our kids out if we needed to."

The rail car, a pressurized tanker belonging to Marathon Oil, was in the CSX holding yard at Raceland waiting to be transported out when the problem occurred.

A hazardous materials team from Marathon was dispatched to the scene to repair the car.

"They fixed the problem and tested everything, and everything was fine," Carpenter said. "Air monitoring is ongoing."

Francis couldn't confirm the final destination of the rail car involved in Tuesday's incident.

"Those cars come in, and if they're hauling something hazardous, they're not in the yard for any longer than 48 hours before they're placed in a train and shipped out," he said. "I don't know that this car had been paired up with a train yet when the problem was detected."