Train derailment near Tuscaloosa causes vegetable oil spill, possibly leaving damage to wildlife

Local News

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — A train derailment in Coaling led to a vegetable oil spill into a branch of the Little Hurricane Creek Saturday afternoon.

Seventeen cars on a Norfolk Southern train derailed at 4:45 p.m. Saturday; one car was breached, according to Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue. This caused an undetermined amount of vegetable oil to spill, fire authorities said.

Fortunately, vegetable oil is much less toxic than crude oil or petroleum. But Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen said that doesn’t mean this spill is harmless.

“But in this quantity, it is still toxic to the environment, it’s toxic to the fauna and flora that live there,” Wathen said.

The affected area is a small branch of Little Hurricane Creek, alongside I-20. That small area is called a tributary, which is a smaller river or stream that leads into a larger one. Being that the area is a tributary, Wathen is concerned about the impact.

“The more oil that’s introduced to a smaller tributary, the greater the impact,” Wathen said.

“Vegetable oil, I don’t know much about it. But the sheer bulk can contaminate the sediment bed, which is where the macro-vertebrate feed and breed. It could choke out the oxygen, change the pH [levels], the acidity in the water,” Wathen said. “It is not as hazardous as crude oil, but in this quantity it will have some pretty dire impact.”

The mixed-freight train was traveling east from New Orleans to Birmingham when the derailment occurred. There were no injuries reported.

The Norfolk Railroad’s Hazardous Materials Team and clean-up contractors will remain on the scene until the derailment is cleared up.

Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue and other responders assisted the Norfolk Railroad and Coaling Volunteer Fire Department in controlling the train derailment. Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue nor Norfolk Southern have reported the amount of vegetable oil spilled.

The derailment remains under investigation.

Wathen, nor CBS 42 has been able to visit the site, but Wathen expects the spill to limit the oxygen and other elemental levels, leaving organisms feeling the effects. 


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