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Another Industrial Alcohol Spill as Train Derails Outside of Minneapolis

Railway Burlington Northern Santa Fe has taken full responsibility, while Governor Tim Walz was on the scene the same day.
Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: March 31, 2023
A Minneapolis-area train derailment saw four cars carrying ethanol catch on fire on March 30.
A photograph of a 22-car train derailment outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where four cars carrying ethanol caught on fire on March 30, 2023. (Image: Environmental Protection Agency handout)

America has suffered another industrial alcohol transportation wreck this week after a 22 train cars derailed in a railway incident outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota on March 30.

According to a press release by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway issued on the spill, which occurred near the town of Raymond, approximately 110 miles away from Minneapolis, there were no other hazardous materials spilled besides ethanol and corn syrup and nobody was injured.

The railway says that although four cars caught on fire, both air quality and water quality were unaffected, according to monitoring following the spill.

Just two days prior, a tugboat carrying 11 barges lost 10 of them in the Ohio River outside of Louisville, Kentucky after colliding with a dam. Three of the barges became trapped on the dam, one of which contained 1,400 tons of methanol.

According to a press release issued via facsimile from the local sheriff’s office and published on Twitter by Iowa AG Radio, area residents were evacuated to a nearby Christian school after a perimeter was established.

The Raymond Fire Department announced on Facebook that the highway entering the town was not only closed, but expected to remain so into the weekend.

The Environmental Protection Agency set up a website for the disaster, saying it was on site “monitoring the air for particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.”

While the EPA said it “has not found any PM [particulate matter; micron size] levels of concern in the community,” but it did detect “low levels below health concerns of VOCs [variants of concern],” but only “immediately downwind of the cars in a non-populated area.”

The website clarifies that the four cars on fire all carry “denatured ethanol,” described as “ethanol containing gasoline to be used as a fuel additive,” while three more cars carrying the compound are not yet on fire.

ABC affiliate WDIO explained that “because the train cars contained ethanol, the flames cannot be put out with water. Instead, crews will be using a fire retardant foam.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz assured the public that the foam would not contain PFAS chemicals, WDIO added.

Governor Walz visited the crash site the same day, according to updates published to his Twitter account.

Reporting by CBS Minnesota stated that residents were allowed to return home as early as the afternoon of March 30.

CBS quoted a BNSF representative as stating that, “Our process to start restoring the track and restoring this area is going to be highly involved with local agencies and NTSB as well.”

The derailment harkens back to the much more severe derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February, which saw dozens of cars carrying vinyl chloride spill and be incinerated by Norfolk Southern Railway, which sought to reopen the line as quickly as possible, a decision that saw pollutants from the blaze fall as far North as Canada.

The NTSB announced on Twitter that it was deploying a team to the site, expected to arrive the afternoon of March 30.

KSTP, another local ABC affiliate, quoted BNSF CEO Katie Farmer as accepting full responsibility for the crash, “We apologize for this, we take full accountability for it and we’ll continue to be here until this is cleaned up,” she said.

Farmer added, “Certainly, I think we’re hearing more about derailments in the wake of East Palestine,” noting that industry statistics claim that “99.99% of all hazardous commodities get moved to destination without incident.”