Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


One resident captured aerial footage of a train derailment in Iowa on Friday. (Photo: @jake_fabe/Twitter)

'We Don't Know... How Bad It Is': 31-Car Oil Train Derails Into Iowa Floodwaters

Amid worries of drinking water contamination, tankers looked as if they had been "thrown around like Legos"

Jessica Corbett

Adding to the mountain of evidence that "oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety, and our climate"—an argument environmentalists have been making for years—a 31-car freight train derailed in Iowa and started leaking crude oil into floodwaters on Friday morning, forcing evacuations of nearby homes and raising concerns about drinking water contamination.

The Sioux County Sheriff posted a video depicting the aftermath of the derailment near Doon on Facebook:

The derailment occurred around 4:30am local time near the Sioux-Lyon County border, and one or more train cars spilled oil into the floodwaters of the Rock River. Rock Valley Mayor Kevin Van Otterloo told Iowa's Des Moines Register that within a few hours, oil had reached his city, about 5 miles downriver.

Although officials on the scene told the Associated Press they are still unsure what caused the train to leave the tracks, Jacob Faber, who lives near the site of the derailment and spent the Thursday night volunteering with flood recovery efforts, said, "There was water on the train track and the train tried to go over it."

Noting that the massive oil-filled tankers looked as if they had been "thrown around like Legos" across the floodwaters, Faber added that the entire area reeked of exhaust fumes: "You can't describe how strong that oil smell is when you're close to it."

A spokesman for BNSF railroad told the AP the company does not know how much oil has leaked into the floodwaters. He did not say how much oil the tankers were carrying. Ken Hessenius of the Iowa Natural Resources Department said cleanup crews are at the site, working to contain the spill.

"Our first major concerns are public water supplies," he said. Multiple towns downriver from the site draw drinking water from wells near the waterway, and the state has notified local officials of potential contamination.

The environmental advocacy group tweeted in response:

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

Brett Wilkins ·

Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·

UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

Brett Wilkins ·

Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo