Sulfuric Acid Leaking from Railroad Car

According to KSTP’s website:

A Union Pacific train derailed just north of the city of Northfield early Monday morning near Highway 3. . . . About 25 gallons of sulfuric acid leaked out of one car, but by 4 a.m. officials said that was contained. Two other cars are also carrying sulfuric acid. There have not yet been evacuations.

We’ve been unable to reach Union Pacific for comment.

From the StarTribune:

Authorities say a derailment of 26 cars on a Union Pacific freight train near Northfield has caused a leak of sulfuric acid.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis says the derailment occurred near a residential area at about 2 a.m. Monday.

Davis says no injuries were reported from the derailment and no evacuations had been ordered as of 6 a.m.

Has anyone seen anything? Anyone know details?

Update – 8:35a Having nothing else to do this morning, I drove up Hwy. 3 to see what I could see. The derailment appeared to be just north of the Greenvale Ave. overpass, right about where the “City of Northfield” sign is, south of the DQ.

More pics –


  1. “No injuries reported.” Ummm… they didn’t evacuate, didn’t notify I’ll bet, so I’m sure no injuries were reported, but have they checked? How do they determine whether it is safe? What monitoring equipment was on site? This is a lot like Xcel’s failure to notify Prairie Island when there’s a problem at the plant — the only way they know is when people notice a bunch of cars high-tailing it out of the plant. And when there was a radiation leak that affected 100 workers, they reported it, but ONE WEEK later and said it was 12, and it took digging out the NRC report to find it was really 100 workers affected. Or like the way they’re reporting “No injuries were reported” from Hallmark’s slaughter and distribution of downer cows when it takes a decade or more for BSE to manifest. AAAARRGH!

    March 31, 2008
  2. As my father used to tell me, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”

    March 31, 2008
  3. Sulphuric acid is really a problem — a woman fighting coal plants told me about a town nearby that over a period of years was shut down because the power plant nearby was spewing SO2 which with rain becomes SO4 (if I remember correcly) and it was literally raining on the town, people couldn’t breathe, everything was a mess. I can’t roust her now, but a quick google found this:

    Here’s an interesting one about a leak in SLC:

    March 31, 2008
  4. Scott Oney said:

    Sulphuric acid is used in car batteries, so most people have some and cruise around with it on a daily basis. It’s the main ingredient in heavy-duty drain cleaners sold in most hardware stores, too (I’m not 100% sure they still sell it), and it works pretty well. If you use it, though, be sure to follow the directions. I usually tip a galvanized bucket upside down over the drain right after I pour it in. You can sometimes get a sort of mini-geyser effect while it’s working.

    March 31, 2008
  5. Ross Currier said:

    Tracy –

    You’ve out-Griffed Mr. Wigley.

    I’ll bet he’s eating his heart out at The Lodge.

    – Ross

    March 31, 2008
  6. Tracy Davis said:

    Ross – Griff would’ve had better photos.

    March 31, 2008
  7. Mary Rossing said:

    Nice pics, Tracy. KYMN broke the story during the 6am hour with call-ins from Roder. Nice we still have a local radio station to keep us informed, but you have to remember to listen.

    March 31, 2008
  8. Tracy Davis said:

    I think that’s where my daughter may have heard it – she’s the one who first told me about it, saying she’d heard it on the radio.

    March 31, 2008
  9. Tracy Davis said:

    The Northfield News now has an article on its website entitled Derailment: Cleanup Begins. According to the article,

    Fire crews were pouring lime on the acid to neutralize and thicken it. Firefighters had also built a makeshift lean-to covering the tanker to mitigate any possible runoff from the sleet and snow falling at the scene . . . An environmental crew was on its way from Little Rock, Ark., to oversee the cleanup, Davis said. They’ll monitor the air and test the soil.

    March 31, 2008
  10. kiffi summa said:

    Re: Mary’s post on call-ins from Mr. Roder…….Do the police, who I assume got the first alarm calls, not know that the executive in charge of any emergency, whether national disaster or local emergency, is the Mayor?

    I thought we just put in place a new emergency/disaster plan last year; surely it has directions as to the chain of command?

    Anybody know where to find a copy? Maybe Tracy can add it to her document collection.

    P.S. responsibility chain is in the Charter, Mayor’s Duties and Responsibilities….. Administrative section has no mention of emergency responsibilities.

    March 31, 2008
  11. Jon Denison said:

    Northfield City Charter Subject 3.8 The Mayor

    Subd. 2. Executive Functions.
    The mayor shall exercise all powers and perform all duties conferred on the mayor by state law,
    this Charter, city ordinances, and council resolutions. The mayor shall study the administration
    and operations of the city and shall report to the council any neglect, dereliction of duty, or waste
    on the part of any officer or department of the city. The mayor may appoint and remove, with
    approval of the council, such professional services as the mayor shall deem necessary. If the office of administrator becomes vacant, the mayor, with the approval of the council, shall appoint
    an acting administrator. The mayor shall be recognized as the official head of the city for purposes
    relating to national security or peacetime emergency. Subject to state law concerning emergency
    management and any local emergency management program consistent therewith, the mayor
    shall oversee and direct the city’s response to any declared emergency.

    2007 Minnesota Statutes Chapter 12 Emergency Management

    Does the mayor have autonomous control over an emergency response team? I should hope not as that person usually is not a trained professional. It would be like making me in charge of the finance director’s job during a crisis.

    The City Charter can not supercede state law in any aspect and over and over again it states the mayor may not do something without specific authorization from the council.

    I find it completely inappropriate for an elected official to be “underfoot” of the trained professionals during an emergency, natural or otherwise.

    For the safty and well-being of The City Of Northfield I certainly hope I’m not the only citizen that would feel uncomfortable knowing this is happening.

    April 1, 2008
  12. The mayor has no professional training in dealing with what happen, Al Roder does, use you common sense, not your personal battle with Al and the council, I want the person with PROFESSIONAL TRAINING on site and I don’t care who it is. I want my family to be safe from harm, so that means the person with professional training should be in charge….this is a no brainier. When an emergency comes up it is time to put petty polities aside and do what is right, NOT question who should be in change.

    April 1, 2008
  13. Jane McWilliams said:

    You’re right, Jon. We don’t want elected officials “under foot” in such situations. The hands-on people need be trained and experienced in whatever the emergency requires.

    However, the public elects the council and the mayor to represent us in creating policies and ordinances, as well as implementing state laws to provide services for our city. The mayor and the council are my conduits to assure that policies and ordinances, including disaster plans, are implemented, including making sure that the appropriate responses to disasters are being implemented. How can they play that representative and supervisory role if they are not notified?

    It should not only be a requirement for the mayor (and the council) to be notified by staff when the city is responding to an incident like the derailment, it is also a common courtesy!

    April 1, 2008
  14. Jon Denison said:

    I agree Jane. I personally called Mr. Roder several times during the day as I received phone calls or personal questions during the day so I could inform my constiutuents throughout the day what is going on. But, for me or any other elected official to be at the emergency response center trying to tell the adminstrators staff how to do their jobs is not the appropriate function for an elected official. The city has an emergency management plan in place that was made policy by a council vote. If changes are required during an emergency the council and mayor should be consulted and there are appropriate failsafes in place for emergency meetings to be called and elected official actions to take place.

    The councils employee is the city adminstrator. And, I trust him to have surrounded himself with the best staff possible that can handle any situation that can arise, as that is the job his resume and expertise was relyed upon when he was hired. I am not a law enforcement officer or a public works employee or an engineer or a financial expert. I am one of the people that was elected to make political decisions based on educating myself and having involved discussions with my peers on the council in an effort to represent the best interests of those that elected me and those that may not have voted for me whose interests I have taken an oath to do my best to represent as best I can as well.

    April 1, 2008
  15. John S. Thomas said:

    From the looks of it, and Northfield’s response, it was very good “train”-ing. 😎

    Sorry, I could not resist…

    When I drove by tonight, the whole site looked rather frightful. The only thing left standing was the Northfield sign.

    We are going to need some very serious landscape repair once the cleanup is done. It looks like a very lucky break that the tracks were in that ravine.

    Also, how the walking bridge by the DQ remained standing is pretty amazing as well.

    I think that we can pretty much put the question of putting a walking / bike path near an active rail line to bed.

    I think everyone got really lucky, and Northfield dodged a bullet on this one.

    BTW, the next time you see one, thank a Northfield Firefighter or Police Officer. It was pretty ugly out there yesterday, and they are doing a fine job. (Kudos to all involved!)

    April 1, 2008
  16. kiffi summa said:

    It seems that an earlier post of mine got lost……. In response to councilor Denison’s link to the state statutes:
    Mr.Denison: Thank you; your link was helpful, but I think you did not read down far enough. As you get to MN Statute 12.29, Declaration of a LOCAL (emphasis mine) Emergency, Subd.1 reads: “Authority to declare an emergency. A local emergency may be declared ONLY by the Mayor of a municipality.”

    My concern is this: Why was the Mayor not informed of this, by either the Police Dept. or the City Administrator, who obviously was notified?

    We have three layers of direction; the state statutes, the NFCharter, and the emergency management plan.

    Full disclosure: I have not been able to find a copy of the EMP, but find it hard to believe that it would contradict the state statutes.

    The point is not who has the expertise to manage the situation; the appropriate emergency response team will do that, regardless of, or in co-operation with, local officials. I would be surprised if most small towns, other than those that have regular serious flooding, had a mayor, or any senior staff, who had true expertise/experience with serious emergency situations.

    I am concerned with what appears to be a breakdown in a very important layered system, with very specific direction as to who is the first local authority to notify/declare.

    Regardless of what might be referred to as “power struggles at city hall” it was highly inappropriate to not notify the Mayor. It is then his immediate responsibility to bring in any local expertise to assist the professional emergency response team for the railroad.

    I would imagine, as Jane suggested in her comment, that the reason the elected official is designated at ALL levels, local, state and Federal, to declare an emergency is the very fact that they are Elected…. and in a “state of emergency” that should supersede any politics.

    April 2, 2008
  17. […] I took these photos of Monday’s train derailment last night at about 6 pm. Only 3 damaged railcars remain. Comments on this post are closed. Discussion continues on Tracy’s original post. […]

    April 3, 2008

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