Families return to homes after spill

Train derailment, chemical leak forced evacuation of about 400 houses.
Courtney Astolfi
Dec 3, 2013

 

The majority of residents displaced by a chemical spill last week in Willard have returned to their homes, but public and railroad company employees are still chipping away at cleanup efforts.

A CSX Transportation tanker derailed inside the city on Nov. 26 shortly before midnight, causing styrene, a flammable chemical, to leak for nearly four hours. About 400 nearby households were evacuated, with most residents permitted back in their homes by 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, officials said.

Although Willard residents have returned to their houses, a lengthy cleanup and recovery process remains in store for railroad employees, as well as federal, state and local officials, city manager Brian Humphress said.

“There’s been a lot of truck traffic and a lot of people in the city who aren’t normally here,” Humphress said. “But basically we’re trying to get everything back to normal”

State and federal EPA officials are still at the site, working on cleanup efforts and removing affected material, Ohio EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said.

“They are excavating the soil that has been impacted,” Abbruzzese said. “They’re pulling that stuff out, storing it in rolloff (trash bins) on site, then taking it to a hazardous waste landfill”

CSX is financially responsible for any expenses incurred by the spill, ranging from displaced families’ hotel bills to the hourly wages of cleaning crews, Humphress said.

“We’ll be sending them a bill to recoup our costs,” Humphress said, citing an Ohio law that makes companies liable for environmental damages.

CSX workers are internally investigating the derailment and subsequent spill. Federal Department of Transportation workers and employees with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio are conducting investigations of their own as well, Humphress said.

“They’ll make a determination if the spill was deliberate, negligent or an act of god,” Humphress said. “Wherever it falls on that continuum will determine any potential charges and fines”

Humphress said all but two families have returned home since the spill.

“They just wanted to be extra cautious, and CSX agreed to pay for another night” Humphress said.

All Willard residents have access to their homes if they so choose. On Thursday, CSX officials said the city’s air quality was safe and no residents should have experienced negative health consequences from the leak.