On two-month anniversary of Custer derailment, site appears unharmed

Feb 23, 2021, 11:30 AM

train derailment, Custer derailment...

A train derailment in Custer, Wash. in December of 2020. (Photo courtesy of the state Department of Ecology)

(Photo courtesy of the state Department of Ecology)

This past Monday marked two months since the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailment in Custer that spilled about 29,000 gallons of crude oil.

Department of Ecology experts say the area appears to be healing just fine.

Of the 29,000 gallons spilled — the equivalent of about what one rail car carries — between 5,400 and 8,000 gallons are believed to have not been recovered.

“Some of it was burned up, some of it evaporated … and some of it spilled on the ground and into the soil,” explained Ty Keltner, a spokesperson for Ecology’s Spills Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program.

Train carrying crude oil derails, catches fire in Whatcom County

Within the initial few days following the accident, ecologists were able to determine that the oil had not flowed into local bodies of water or into the woods, where it could have potentially harmed animals. This was because the crash happened in a kind of basin, allowing the oil to be contained.

If it had to happen, said Rob Walls, a response unit supervisor for Ecology’s Northwest Region, it happened in the best way possible.

“Everything was how it needed to be to mitigate significant damage,” said Walls, who was on the scene shortly after. “All the stars aligned.”

He explained that the weather that day — very cold and without wind — also helped to minimize the risk of explosion and keep the toxins from traveling too far in the air.

Additionally, the first responders had recently practiced for an emergency just like this one.

“These types of events are rare, but when they do happen, you don’t want to be meeting people for the first time,” said Courtney Wallace, a spokesperson for BNSF Railway. “That’s why training is so critical …  it really paid off very well.”

Working with the Department of Ecology, BNSF has been monitoring air quality in the area since the derailment and has consistently found normal numbers.

“There’s no significant levels of toxic vapors,” Walls said.

Cheryl Ann Bishop, a spokesperson for Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said BNSF has been diligent about making sure there is no lasting damage to nature in Custer.

“They are working on it, we haven’t had to nudge them,” Bishop said. “They immediately started dealing with the problem.”

As of last week, Burlington Northern Santa Fe is removing contaminants from the soil and has installed seven wells to monitor groundwater, the one type of water that could possibly have been harmed in the derailment.

Wallace said that so far, the groundwater readings have all looked good.

“It’s been a really great partnership,” Wallace said of the ongoing monitoring efforts with Ecology.

In the meantime, the FBI and NTSB are investigating what could have caused the accident. The NTSB told KIRO Radio the investigation could take up to a year-and-a-half.

MyNorthwest News

seattle sex trafficking...

Frank Sumrall

Seattle resident arrested for sex trafficking in San José

A San José special operations unit arrested a Seattle resident last week on suspicion of alleged commercial sex trafficking.

4 hours ago

5-car crash sr 900...

Frank Sumrall

Mustang causes 5-car crash on SR 900 after veering onto oncoming traffic

A 5-car crash on State Route 900 (SR 900) in Renton Sunday led to four injured individuals, a five-hour highway backup and a brush fire.

6 hours ago

Photo: Neighbors in Mount Vernon are being praised for saving young kids from a burning home....

Samantha Lomibao, KIRO 7

Neighbors in Mount Vernon save young kids home alone from burning house

Neighbors in Mount Vernon are being praised for saving young kids from a burning home. The fire sparked on June 3.

19 hours ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

19 hours ago

Photo: More than 70 Seattle firefighters responded to a Columbia City fire after a construction sit...

Julia Dallas

Columbia City construction site goes up in flames; downs power lines, damages cars and home

More than 70 Seattle firefighters responded to a construction site in Columbia City after it went up in flames early Saturday morning.

21 hours ago

Image: At left, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 9...

MyNorthwest Staff

‘It’s absolutely unacceptable:’ Washington officials react to Trump rally shooting

Washington officials have reacted to a shooting that broke out at a rally for former President Donald Trump on Saturday.

2 days ago

On two-month anniversary of Custer derailment, site appears unharmed