Clara City, Minnesota Train Derailment Causes Hydrochloric Acid Leak, Results in Evacuation of 400 PeopleOct 29, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
A train derailment in Clara City, Minnesota, forced the evacuation of hundreds of people this morning after it was discovered that a tanker on the train had ruptured and was leaking hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is a highly toxic chemical that can cause severe injuries if it comes into contact with skin or eyes, and its vapors can also cause damage to the lungs and respiratory tract.
The Clara City train derailment occurred on the west side of Clara City, a town of 1,350 people about 95 miles from Minneapolis. According to town officials, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train was passing through Clara City when it struck a parked train at approximately 4:00 a.m. At least 50 cars from the Burlington Northern train came off the tracks, and one tanker that was known to be carrying hydrochloric acid had ruptured and was leaking. Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive and toxic liquid that can become a mist if it comes in contact with water. Inhaling hydrochloric acid vapors can cause coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract, and in severe cases, pulmonary edema, circulatory failure, and death. The vapors from hydrochloric acid can irritate and damage the eyes, and direct contact with the toxin can cause redness, pain, and severe skin burns.
Though no injuries were reported from the Clara City train derailment, about 400 people living on the west and north sides of town, as well as several outlying farms, were evacuated to the Bethany Reformed Church. Town officials said that it could be more than 6 hours before the Clara City train derailment evacuees would be able to return to their homes, and they were instructed to bring any pets and vital medications with them.
The Clara City train derailment also forced the closure of schools in the MacCray School District. That school district serves students in the towns of Clara City, Raymond and Maynard. District officials made the decision to close all schools after it was discovered that the chemical cloud created by the Clara City train derailment had headed in the direction of the high school parking lot in Clara City. That parking lot is used by school buses for picking up and dropping off students from several elementary schools. In addition, state highways 7 and 23 had to be closed because of the Clara City train derailment, making student transport difficult.
By mid morning, officials had determined that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train had stopped leaking hydrochloric acid. However, it was expected that the chemical cloud created by the Clara City train derailment hydrochloric acid leak would take several more hours to dissipate. A hazardous chemical team from nearby Morris, Minnesota, is currently at the scene to assess the extent of the damage caused by the Clara City train derailment. Crews were preparing to apply soda ash and lime at the accident site in an attempt to contain the hydrochloric acid spill. The Red Cross has also been dispatched to the Bethany Reformed Church to assist the Clara City train derailment evacuees.