Chemical leak causes shelter-in-place order in Metro East

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WOOD RIVER, Ill. – Hundreds of metro-east residents are under a shelter in place order after authorities say a chemical vented from multiple rail cars in Wood River.  The Norfolk Southern Railroad authorities say a fourth tank car has begun venting. Railroad officials say they are continuing to shower the cars with water to dissipate the vapor that is being released.

Air quality levels have returned to a safe spot. The shelter in place order is still in effect. The Wood River police and other officials are working to decide when to lift that order.

Railroad crews also want you to know there has not been any release, leak, or spills of liquids or solids from the tank cars. They are venting vapor to help reduce the built up pressure.

The leak began Wednesday afternoon when authorities responded to a call that one stationary rail car containing spent sulfuric acid had become over-pressurized and was venting or leaking. 

Crews thought they had the situation under control but overnight, three other rail cars started venting the same chemical due to over pressurization. 

Authorities told FOX2 the spent sulfuric acid can impact your breathing so a shelter in place order was issued around 4:30 a.m. for several hundred residents in southern Wood River into Roxana. It’s in an area south of Route 143 and west of Route 111. 

The scene is in the southern part of Wood River almost at the Hartfod border. 

We’re told crews are putting water on a total of five rail cars to try and contain the chemical. They’re also using the water to try and disperse the escaping vapors. 

There is a significant amount of water being used. The Roxana Water Department says that there may be a discoloration in their water because so much is going to help with the HAZMAT situation. The Roxana Water Department recommends that residents do not wash any laundry. If you continue to experience any discoloration after two days call 618-254-5513.

The Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells had this to say about the shelter in place order. 

“I don’t want to put a panic out there with anybody but anytime we do something as a precautionary manner it’s because there is the potential for something to happen,” Wells explained. “At this point, it’s just a precautionary manner but you always want to be prepared in the event something does happen…(Spent sulfuric acid can affect) your breathing condition so obviously that’s the reason for the precautionary message being sent.”

All of the rail cars involved were originally picked up from the Phillips 66 refinery and were staged while awaiting pick-up by the KCS Railroad. 

Emergency responders recommend residents shut off their HVAC systems and close their windows. So far, nobody has been evacuated and no serious injuries are being reported. 

It is unclear how long the clean-up could take. 

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