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'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"


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

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."


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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:

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