West Virginia Plant Goes Offline After Oil Train Explodes

Cleanup continues, but water service has been restored in West Virginia after a train carrying crude oil derailed near the Kanawha River.
West Virginia Plant Goes Offline After Oil Train Explodes

Drinking water for two West Virginia counties was put at risk Monday after a train hauling 3 million pounds of crude oil derailed and exploded, spilling its contents near the Kanawha River.

More than 20 of the train’s 109 tank cars derailed, and most were involved in the subsequent fire.

“It was like a 500-pound bomb going off,” says local resident Brandon Truman to the New York Times. “You could feel the pressure and the heat.”

The risk of contamination to the Kanawha River prompted West Virginia American Water to shut down its Montgomery treatment plant, which is downstream from the accident. The utility reopened the plant Tuesday, Feb. 17, nearly 24 hours after the train derailment, saying three rounds of samples taken at different points in the river and plant had shown “non-detectable levels of the components of crude oil.”

Despite that, aerial photographs appeared to show oil in a nearby creek, according to the New York Times.

As of Wednesday, Feb. 18, officials were still taking precautionary measures as cleanup continued. West Virginia American Water advised its 2,000 customers in the Montgomery plant’s service area to boil water before use to kill the “bacteria and other organisms that can be present in the water following the loss of system pressure.” Bottled water was also available for residents. Truckloads of it were delivered to two different distribution sites in the area for residents to use while water service was being restored. The utility said it would draw and test water samples every hour while cleanup continued

“A full spectrum volatile organic compounds analysis is run on each sample, and all analyses performed have shown no detection for crude oil related compounds,” the utility reported in a press release Wednesday afternoon.

The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the cause of the derailment. Local TV affiliate WTRF reports the investigation is on hold until the fire burns out. Officials from CSX, the train owner, say letting the fires burn out is the safest action — compressing the fire could cause oil to contaminate the water, and the foam mixture used for fire suppression could further affect the environment.

The train was carrying oil from North Dakota to a ship terminal in Yorktown, Virginia. One person was treated for a respiratory problem, but no other injuries were reported.


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