Toxic-Gas Leak in Fiery Tennessee Derailment Delays Shipping

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A CSX Corp. train carrying highly flammable, toxic gas was still on fire about 16 hours after derailing near Knoxville, Tennessee, causing the evacuation of 5,000 people and disrupting rail traffic.

“The product in the tank car continues to burn, making it unsafe to set up any transfer operation,” CSX said in a statement at around 3:30 p.m. local time Thursday. The cause of the derailment is still unknown, and the Federal Railroad Administration has started an investigation.

The one tank car involved in the blaze was affecting shipments on the main line between Nashville, Tennessee, and Knoxville. CSX also transports crude along the route, according to Oil Change International.

The cargo that ignited, acrylonitrile, is used to make acrylic fibers and plastics. If inhaled at high levels, it can cause nausea, headaches and kidney irritation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Residents in the vicinity of the accident were advised by local authorities not to drink the water until tests can be performed, CSX said. The air quality is also being assessed.

Ten law enforcement officials were taken to the hospital for treatment after breathing in the fumes, said Marian O’Briant, a spokeswoman for the Blount County sheriff’s department.

Firefighters were summoned around midnight with initial reports that the blaze was caused by liquefied petroleum gas, according to Blount County firefighter Kermit Easterling. The train car was leaking, he said, and it’s unclear how long it will take to clean up. There were 24,000 gallons of acrylonitrile in the car, according to CSX.

Evacuation Zone

An evacuation zone was set up in a two-mile (3.2 kilometer) radius from the accident near Maryville, Tennessee, and could be in place for as long as 48 hours, the Blount County sheriff’s office said. The city of about 27,000 sits at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The CSX train, en route to Waycross, Georgia, from Cincinnati, consists of two locomotives and 57 cars, of which 12 were empty, Seay said. A total of 27 cars are carrying hazardous materials. Cars of acrylonitrile are located on either side of the burning rail car. No crude oil is among the cargo.

In February, a CSX oil train derailed in West Virginia causing as many as 15 tankers to catch fire and a state of emergency to be declared in two counties.