Metro-East News

Tanker in Dupo train derailment fire apparently was carrying a solvent, railroad says

Fire erupted in a train derailment Tuesday afternoon in Dupo, where schools and some residents were evacuated but no injuries were reported.

Initial information indicates that a tank car containing a flammable liquid called “methyl isobutyl ketone” was involved in the fire, according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South.

“It is typically used as a solvent,” South said in an email.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methyl isobutyl ketone is used for gums, resins, paints, varnishes, lacquers and nitrocellulose (also known as flash paper or flash cotton).

“The train was being built for departure at the time of the derailment, which caused a tank car to catch fire,” South said. She said later Tuesday that the exact cause remains under investigation.

The St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency said 13 train cars derailed.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” South said, Union Pacific’s enviornmental contractor CTEH will continue to monitor air quality downwind and southwind at least 5 miles from the yard until further notice.

Dupo Mayor Jerry Wilson said students from Dupo High School and a grade school were evacuated to Columbia as a precautionary measure.

Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, said residents in the Flora Acres, Adams and Stoneybrook neighborhoods were asked to evacuate as a precautionary measure but they were allowed to return by 4 p.m.

The cleanup of the site is expected to take several hours, Simmons said.

The derailment occurred about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in Union Pacific’s Dupo Yard near Carondelet Avenue between Main and Adams Road, South said.

Big, black plumes of smoke could be seen for miles around the fire, but by 3 p.m. the cloud of smoke had dissipated.

Residents react

Lorene Lord, who lives across the street from the derailment, said she heard a noise like trains bumping together and then she heard sirens.

“I was afraid because there is a chemical plant right there and I didn’t know what was happening,” Lord said.

Lord said she watched the smoke from the fire for about an hour but then she was asked to leave her home.

Tina Sheldon of Dupo was working at a nearby Huck’s convenience store then the fire broke out.

“I saw a big, black cloud of smoke and when I stepped outside it smelled yeasty, like someone was baking bread,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said her brother works at the Dupo rail yard and he told her that it “felt like an earthquake” when the fire started.

Amerern said about 1,000 customers in the area lost power Tuesday when power lines had to be de-energerized while the fire was burning. However, the power was restored by 3:20 p.m., according to Ameren spokeswoman Kelly Hendrickson. None of Ameren’s equipment was damaged, she said.

“Union Pacific apologizes to the community for the impact this has caused,” a statement from South said Tuesday night. “We’d also like to thank the first responders who put out the fire and helped with the evacuation. Union Pacific’s Hazmat personnel will remain on scene until remediation is complete.”

South said that Union Pacific was working through Tuesday night to remove the cars and when that is finished, it will inspect the track and make any necessary repairs. It is expected to complete the inspection by Wednesday morning.

Federal investigation

Federal Railroad Administration personnel and hazmat responders will investigate the derailment, according to a statement from the agency.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, this would be the 331st reported railroad incident in St. Clair County since 2000, causing more than $18 million in damages. More than half of those incidents (214 of them) related either to human error or issues with track. Only Cook County had more. Madison County, by contrast, had 136 reported incidents and Monroe just five.

Methyl isobutyl ketone

According to the EPA, short-term exposure to methyl isobutyl ketone can cause irritation to the eyes and mucous membranes, as well as weakness, headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting, dizziness, incoordination and drowsiness.

Long-term occupational exposure has been observed to cause nausea, headaches, burning in the eyes, weakness, insomnia, intestinal pain and slight enlargement of the liver, an EPA report stated.

The same report stated that the most probable route of exposure to methyl isobutyl ketone is by inhalation or skin contact with products that contain the compound. It can also be released into the environment by emissions from manufacturing, exhaust gas from vehicles and in land disposal and ocean dumping of waste that contains the compound.

The EPA does not classify methyl isobutyl ketone as a carcinogen for humans or animals.


How we reported this story

In an effort to get accurate information to Dupo residents, we reported this story both with a reporter and photographer at the site and another communicating with emergency officials by phone and through social media. The purpose of the report is to give residents the information they need to stay safe.

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Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.
Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.