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A collision with a semitrailer and a Canadian Pacific Railway train near Plummer, Minn., Saturday spilled around 30,000 gallons of petroleum product into ditch along U.S. Highway 59. Photo courtesy Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

State officials assessing environmental threat from 30,000-gallon fuel spill

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State officials assessing environmental threat from 30,000-gallon fuel spill
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A collision with a semitrailer and a Canadian Pacific Railway train near Plummer, Minn., Saturday spilled around 30,000 gallons of petroleum product into ditch along U.S. Highway 59. Photo courtesy Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

GRAND FORKS - State officials are trying to determine the environmental threat posed by 30,000 gallons of petroleum product spilled into a ditch Saturday near Plummer, Minn., the result of a rail accident.

A semi-trailer struck a Canadian Pacific Railway train where it crosses U.S. Highway 59 south of town, killing the driver and releasing the petroleum product.

Dan Olson, spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in Detroit Lakes, said the liquid spilled into a ditch along the highway, spreading about a quarter of a mile.

Pollution Control inspectors tested the liquid Monday to determine the contaminants it contained and in what amount.

"We're getting a handle on what the product contains," Olson said.

The substance could be a pyrolysis gasoline, a product with a high benzene content that could make it a hazardous material and create a strong odor, according to Olson. Plummer was evacuated for two hours Saturday, but Olson said the fumes were not a threat to residents.

"They probably will notice some odors still," he said.

Workers with Canadian Pacific and its environmental services contractor are performing the cleanup and have contained the spill, CP Spokesman Ed Greenberg said. The remediation will probably take several more days.

The spill did not contaminate any water source, Olson said.

Disposal options

If the liquid is determined to be hazardous, workers could burn it at the site of the accident to reduce levels of hazardous compounds and take the remaining soil to a hazardous waste disposal site, Olson said. If it is not considered hazardous, it would be taken to another site for the contaminants to be broken down by sunlight and natural processes.

"It's going to be quite a bit of soil," he said.

Traffic on Highway 59 was detoured around the accident Monday, and Department of Transportation Public Affairs Coordinator Karen Bedeau did not know when the road would be open again.

Around 2,150 vehicles use that section of Highway 59 each day, she said.

Greenberg said the main track was open Monday but a secondary track was closed during the cleanup.

"Obviously, our company's thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the deceased," he said.

Red Lake County Sheriff Mitch Bernstein said the eastbound train was traveling around 5 mph when the semi driver, 65-year-old Dale Buzzell of Isanti, Minn., struck it at a highway crossing at around 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

The impact knocked the wheels off a tanker car and the container punctured when it fell back onto the wheels, he said.

Buzzell was killed in the crash. An autopsy was performed to see if a medical problem caused him to hit the train, but results will not be available right away, Bernstein said.

Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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