Toxic Cloud Looms After Train Derails in Calif.

March 5, 2008

Some 60 residents of the Southern California desert town of Mecca were evacuated from their homes after part of a Union Pacific train derailed and two of its tanker cars caught fire, authorities said, sending a cloud of acid fumes into the night sky.

Authorities said no one has been hurt in the incident.

Fire and railroad officials said one of the burning tanker cars contains hydrochloric acid. A strong acid, hydrochloric often is used in the production of chlorides, fertilizers and dyes, as well as in the photographic, textile and rubber industries.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Acute short-term inhalation can cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation, plus a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

The other tanker car on fire contains phosphoric acid, officials said. Phosphoric is a milder acid typically used for rust removal and for the preparation of steel surfaces for painting.

Riverside County Fire Capt. Julie Hutchinson said authorities set up a one-mile radius around the accident site and no one was being let inside because of the potentially hazardous fumes.

Emergency crews are formulating an action plan, Hutchinson said, but so far have stayed clear of the derailment.

“We plan to go in and take a look as soon as we can get some sunlight on it,” Hutchinson said.

James Barnes, a spokesman for Union Pacific, which is based in Omaha, Neb., said the 65-car train was heading from West Colton to El Centro. The cause of its derailment still is under investigation, he said.

The accident site is next to U.S. Highway 111, which was shut down for a seven-mile stretch south of State Road 195.

Mecca has nearly 5,400 residents and is in southern Riverside County, about 140 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.