Chemicals Contained After CSX Train Derailment

Lye Leaked Near Rhode Island Avenue NE

A chlorine car passes on the CSX train line in Southwest at Seventh and Virginia Avenues SW. (Photo: Maureen Cohen Harrington)

A leak of chemicals during a 14-car derailment on the CSX freight train line by Ninth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE has been contained, confirmed DC officials. The accident occurred on May 1 around 6:40 a.m.

Three cars leaked toxins in the incident. The largest leak was sodium hydroxide or lye, which is used in making paper, soap and detergent. A small calcium chloride leak was sealed. A leaking base valve on an ethanol car was sealed. Officials told residents to return home after they had been evacuated in the morning. 

“The fumes should not cause you any problems and you should not be able to smell them anywhere else,” said DC Fire and EMS Deputy Chief John Donnelly at a morning news conference with Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Metro Red Line service between NoMa-Gallaudet and Brookland, the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the roadways around the spill were closed, while DC Fire and EMS, Metro officials and the Federal Railroad Administration investigated. The 175-car train was traveling from Cumberland, Md., to Hamlet, NC.

Unlike Virginia, DC does not monitor rail activities inside its borders despite the fact the trains run through residential areas in Wards 5, 6 and 7. The CSX freight lines run via Southwest and Southeast into Anacostia; as well as through the Northeast past Union Station. They carry chemicals like chlorine, liquefied petroleum, phosphoric acid, fluorosilicic acid, molten sulfur and limestone slurry, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Some require at least a mile for evacuation in the case of a spill.

Hours after the May 1 spill, a CSX train carrying chlorine was spotted in Southwest by DCSafeRail and Committee 100 member Maureen Cohen Harrington. But after years of fighting the CSX lines routing through the heart of DC, she said she wasn't surprised the spill occurred. 

"You don’t want to say I told you so, but the first thing you think is I told you so," she said. "We’re lucky it wasn’t far worse." 

In 2015, the FRA reported 267 accidents involving CSX trains. About 109 of those incidents involved hazardous materials.  

The last major spill in the city occurred in 2007 when a CSX derailment dumped 600 tons of coal into the Anacostia River. An 89-car train collapsed a bridge in Anacostia Park, according to news reports.

CSX settled the Anacostia spill for $650,000 with the District. About $500,000 of which went toward an environmental endowment fund. Another smaller derailment occurred in 2009 with 13 of 28 cars carrying hazardous material.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and At-Large member David Grosso have crafted legislation to allow DC to create a rail security inspection department similar to that of Virginia — the Rail Safety and Security Oversight Agency Establishment Act of 2015. The bill has languished in the council's Judiciary Committee.

The Hill Rag will update as more facts are known. 

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