Chemical Fire in Illinois Rail Yard Reminds of Hazmat Train Dangers | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A train car derailment southeast of St. Louis on Sept. 10, 2019, immediately brought back memories of a deadly tragedy in South Carolina 14 years earlier. No one lost their lives in the rail yard outside of Dupo, Illinois (IL), but the incident did suggest persistent problems with transporting volatile chemicals and other hazardous materials by train—as well as the need to solve those problems.

In Illinois, a tanker car filled with methyl isobutyl ketone derailed and caught fire. Concerns over the release of toxic fumes known to case nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting, dizziness, lack of coordination and drowsiness, emergency personnel ordered immediate evacuations of three neighborhoods near the Union Pacific Dupo yard, as well as a high school and a grade school. The evacuation order was lifted within hours, but air quality monitoring was planned for several days. No one received treatment for physical or inhalational injuries.



That good news contrasts sharply with the terrible toll exacted from an explosive release of chlorine gas from a punctured Norfolk Southern tanker car in Graniteville, SC. Our Virginia-based railroad injury and wrongful death law firm helped victims of that fatal incident hold the company accountable. We did so by calling attention to the avoidable and preventable errors Norfolk Southern personnel made.

One purpose for thoroughly investigating derailments like the one in Illinois and the explosion in South Carolina is to identify problems that can be solved before they happen again. Union Pacific’s Dupo yard may not be learning the proper lessons.

As noted in the Belleville News-Democrat, which serves the Dupo area, “According to the Federal Railroad Administration, this would be the 331st reported railroad incident in St. Clair County since 2000, causing more than $18 million in damages. More than half of those incidents (214 of them) related either to human error or issues with track.”

When railroad corporation fail to recognize and respond to hazmat dangers or physical risks, they threaten the lives and health of workers and the general public. When the cause of the tanker car derailment in Illinois is identified, my personal injury and wrongful death attorney colleagues and I urge Union Pacific and every other freight rail company to change procedures as needed.