Metro-East News

Railroad says there is no public health concern related to Dupo train derailment

See flames from train fire in Dupo

A train is on fire after derailing in Dupo. The fire sent a plume of smoke over the Southern Illinois town.
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A train is on fire after derailing in Dupo. The fire sent a plume of smoke over the Southern Illinois town.

Dupo residents can breathe easy after air quality tests conducted by a Union Pacific contractor concluded there is no public health concern after a train car carrying solvent derailed and caught on fire Tuesday.

Around 12:45 p.m., at least 13 rail cars derailed in the rail yard near Carondelet Avenue between Main and Adams roads in Dupo. One of the cars, which was carrying methyl isobutyl ketone, ignited, causing large black plumes to fill the air for hours. The fire was put out and the sky cleared by 3 p.m.

Dupo residents within a half mile radius of the fire had been evacuated, but were allowed back to their homes and businesses after 3:45 p.m. Kim Biggs, a spokesperson for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said this was done as a precaution.

CTEH, the environmental consultant for the railroad company, finished air quality monitoring at 8 a.m. Wednesday, said Kristen South, a spokesperson for Union Pacific. The railroad’s hazmat personnel remained on scene Wednesday to address residual environmental impacts from the incident, such as testing soil and cleaning ditches.

Methyl isobutyl ketone is a solvent used for gums, resins, paints, varnishes, lacquers and nitrocellulose (also known as flash paper or flash cotton), a report from the Environmental Protection Agency states.

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, lack of coordination and drowsiness.

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

Here's what remains of the train that derailed and caught fire in Dupo from Dupo Fire & EMS.

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 it. 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.

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

South said a 24/7 information hotline, staffed by a nurse, is available for anyone in the community who would like more information about the released substance and potential health effects. The number is 314-391-5362.

The track reopened for freight operation early Wednesday morning after crews replaced ties, rail and ballast (the rock that stabilizes the track bed), South said.

No injuries were reported in the incident. An investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration is underway to determine what the cause of the derailment was. South said that Union Pacific’s preliminary review indicated train handling while building the train played a role.

To build a train, rail cars with the same destination are put into “blocks,” or a series of signals that divide a railway line into sections, and those blocks are added together to make a train. Blocks are sized to allow a train to stop within them.


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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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.