Coast Guard, other agencies continue in response of sodium hydroxide leak

SEATTLE - Rail cars lay on a beach in University Place, Wash., after a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company train derailed Feb. 26, 2011. An estimated 50 gallons of sodium hydroxide was leaked as a result of the accident. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Mallick.

SEATTLE - Rail cars lay on a beach in University Place, Wash., after a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company train derailed Feb. 26, 2011. An estimated 50 gallons of sodium hydroxide was leaked as a result of the accident. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Mallick.

SEATTLE – The Coast Guard, Department of Ecology, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company and contractors are continuing to respond to a train derailment south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in University Place, Wash., that occurred Saturday at approximately 8 p.m.

Fourteen rail cars derailed, four of which contain sodium hydroxide. Two separate fittings on one tank car leaked approximately 50 gallons of sodium hydroxide solution onto the shoreline. One leak has been plugged and the other leak is being contained.

At low tide all fourteen rail cars are out of the water. At high tide five rail cars are in approximately one-foot of water. The leaking sodium hydroxide solution did not come in contact with the tide.

Lt. Cmdr. Matt Denning, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, and Ron Holcomb with the Department of Ecology reported that the threat to public safety and health from the chemical is negligible at this time. Pierce County has closed off trails and a pedestrian bridge near the area due to the onsite activity.

The Coast Guard has issued a broadcast notice to mariners alerting boaters to stay out of the area. The Coast Guard Cutter Blue Shark is patrolling the area to ensure boaters keep a safe distance from the incident site. A Coast Guard helicopter over flew the area at 8:40 a.m. and reported that there were no visible signs that the sodium hydroxide solution was leaking into the water.

Each of the four tank cars contains approximately 15,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide solution, which will be pumped out of the tank cars prior to the cars being removed from the shoreline.

Gus Melonas, a representative from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, indicates that both train lines are expected to be open later today. The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

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