Rail fuel spill stirs concerns

Rail fuel spill stirs concerns

SIDNEY — Village officials fear that fish in the creek that winds through Sidney could be threatened by as much as 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel that drained into it from a railroad spill over the weekend.

"I haven't seen any dead fish yet, but I am concerned," said Sidney Village President Charles White. "I went down to the creek, saw some fish swimming around and definitely smelled some diesel fuel."

He's not alone in the southern Champaign County village of 1,237.

"I'm concerned over the color of the creek and the fact that there's still oil in the creek," resident Suzie Gaines said. "The creek used to look like muddy water, and now it looks like vinegar and oil with a bluish tint into it."

Sidney Fire Chief Earl Bennett said a Union Pacific train on its way to St. Louis began to leak fuel near County Roads 900 N and 2100 E, about one mile south and one mile east of Sidney, at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Bennett said Union Pacific officials told him that an engine may have been leaking fuel.

"They had a railroad car that had a leak and, as they slowed down to repair it, it spilled fuel," said village board member and Sidney firefighter Jason Arrasmith. "It traveled down the creek and went through town."

The engine and perhaps some rail cars were taken to a rail yard in Villa Grove to be checked out, White said.

Bennett said fire department officials were unaware of the problem until they were called to the 400 block of South White Street at 3:45 p.m. Saturday to respond to a report of chemicals flowing through the right branch of the tributary to the Salt Fork River, which winds through the village.

"One gentleman told us it smelled like paint thinner," Bennett said. "It was also leaving a film in the water."

"We got a call about odor in the back yard," Arrasmith added.

"I think you can still smell it today," he said.

When the eight Sidney firefighters saw the filmy creek water, they followed the creek upstream looking for the source of the contamination.

"We traced it to a railroad trestle a mile south and a mile east of the village," Bennett said. 

Bennett said the fuel did not immediately flow into the creek. "It initially went into the soil and then later drained into the creek," he said.

"It appears the fuel ran for about two miles from the point of origin. The last point we could find was a quarter mile from the river."

White expressed concern Monday that nobody from Union Pacific told the mayor about the spill.

But Bennett said Union Pacific sent a cleanup crew to the scene.

"They were in the creek Sunday and again on Monday cleaning all the diesel they could," he said.

Ralph Foster, a senior emergency responder for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said a railroad contractor, Environmental Restoration, was in town Monday doing hazmat cleanup work.

A containment boom was being put into place on the north side of a bridge on Victory Street in Sidney.

"It absorbs any fuel that skims on top of the water," Bennett said. "There are now booms placed at different spots throughout town to make sure they catch everything before it gets to the river."

Dan Bowen, a geologist for the state EPA, said the boom will be in place for several weeks.

"It will be probably the middle of the summer before we get any kind of environmental report from the EPA," White said. "There's still lots of fuel through town that needs to get cleaned up. I'm gonna make sure it gets cleaned up all the way."

Foster said the biggest environmental problem in the area is the odor. He said he saw no impact to wildlife or vegetation "at this point."

Bennett, who also serves as Sidney's water superintendent, said there is no danger to the village's water supply because Sidney gets its water from Illinois American Water in Champaign-Urbana.

"This has no effect on our drinking water," Bennett said.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Environment

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787 wrote on May 05, 2015 at 8:05 am

It took long enough for the News-Gazette to learn of this diesel spill.

Someone with the N-G must have seen it on the TV news last night.