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Kentucky train crash creates poisonous gas hazard

02 November 2012

An October 31 train derailment in southwest Louisville, Kentucky, caused a fire that was still burning on November 2, according to local reports. Rescue services were attempting to remove the contents of one chemical car containing flammable styrene, and moving other wreckage to get better access to two cars holding hydrogen fluoride.

Following the crash a 1.2-mile diameter evacuation zone was imposed affecting 150 homes in Louisville and 900 people in West Point.

The fire was under control and “the scene had stabilised,” said Doug Hamilton, director of the Louisville Emergency Management Agency said on November 2.

He said the evacuation will remain in place because of the potential risks from the hydrogen fluoride and uncertainty over how long it will take to complete the cleanup.

Art Smith, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said being exposed to hydrogen fluoride — which is highly corrosive to skin, “is as bad as it gets as a hazmat incident if it were to be released.”

Local, state and federal investigators are planning to continue pressing for why 13 of 57 cars jumped the tracks near West Point and the circumstances that caused an acetylene torch to ignite an explosion and fire Wednesday that seriously injured three workers.

Two employees of R. J. Corman Derailment Services remained hospitalized with serious burns Thursday, said Noel Rush, a Corman spokesman. He said they were improving, with one in stable condition and the other in critical condition.

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