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FD: Workers injured at cleanup site of Tempe train derailment

Tempe train
Posted at 2:40 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-01 18:19:59-04

TEMPE, AZ — Two contractors have been injured at the cleanup site in Tempe where a Union Pacific train hauling wood, chemicals, and other materials derailed and caught fire earlier this week while crossing a bridge over Tempe Town Lake, according to the Tempe Fire Department.

Both contractors were working to remove hazardous materials from one of the train tanker cars, containing cyclohexanone, which fell to the ground after the bridge partially collapsed on Wednesday, a spokesperson said.

Cyclohexanone is a flammable chemical used in paint thinner and to make nylon.

When the two men went to take off the hose transferring the chemicals to another tank, fire officials say they heard a loud 'pop' and then the hose popped off and vapor and liquid hit them in the face and chest.

"We’re not sure if it was due to increased heat we have in Arizona temperatures," said Assistant Tempe Fire Chief Andrea Glass. "During the twisting of the And releasing, that’s when the fluid was splashed on their face."

One of the workers was originally listed as being in critical condition by Tempe fire, but has been treated for burns and released from the hospital. A Union Pacific spokesperson told ABC15, via email Friday night, "Neither employee was seriously injured. One is back on the job, and the second employee has been discharged after receiving medical treatment."

The train, which was hauling more than 100 cars, derailed early Wednesday morning. Between 8-10 railcars caught fire, sending flames and smoke billowing into the air, official said. The south side of the bridge then collapsed, sending three railcars hauling cyclohexanone and a rubber material onto the ground below. None of the train's crew was injured in the incident.

On Thursday, Tempe Fire Chief Greg Ruiz said one of the railcars had leaked an estimated 500 gallons of cyclohexanone, which is considered to be highly flammable and an irritant, and that the leak had been contained. The chemical is not believed to have leaked into Tempe Town Lake, which remains closed until further notice.

Officials said Thursday the next steps in the cleanup efforts was to off-load the cyclohexanone from the railcars, which involved removing the chemicals from the railcars and putting them into another container. It was not known how long that process could take, but now it will be delayed due to Friday's accident.

"We will have to reevaluate and see what that timeframe will be, because things were progressing quite quickly, and now we have to slow down the operations and really make sure that things are done safely and that we don't have another incident like this in the future," said Asst. Chief Glass.

"Before we were one to two weeks, maybe three - to try and get things cleaned up and out of the way, and this will slow things down."

The accident, once again put the spotlight on Union Pacific, who had a derailment and fire on the same Tempe tracks in late June.

ABC15 discovered the railroad company had 26 hazardous material incidents in Arizona over the past five years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Based on a review of the incidents, the derailment, collapse and leak of 500 gallons is by far the most serious incident in Arizona recently.

In a statement, Union Pacific touted their "99.99% success rate...without incident."

A spokesperson for Union Pacific apologized Thursday for the disruption the derailment had caused and said that the train company does intend to rebuild the bridge and resume its operations. It is not known how long that process could take.

The company also told ABC15 they are paying contractors to do the clean-up work and have a claims process for the City of Tempe and others to recuperate money for costs associated with the derailment and chemical spill.

Lupe Valdez, senior director of public affairs at Union Pacific who oversees Arizona, Southern California, and Southern Nevada, said Thursday that the bridge was last visually inspected on July 9 and passed that inspection. She said documents have been given to the federal officials, who are investigating the incident.

She said she was unable to comment further because she wanted to respect the integrity of the investigation. Rail lines are managed and maintained by the railroad company.

The derailment marked the second derailment involving a Union Pacific train in less than a month. On June 26, another train derailed in the same area, a spokesperson for Union Pacific confirmed to news outlets on Wednesday. Rail and bridge ties were damaged in that incident, but the line reopened two days later.

Preliminary results from the investigation could be released in a matter of months, but a comprehensive report would not be available for at least a year, officials said.