Sulphuric Acid Spill from Derailed Freight Train Prompts Water Contamination Fear

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sulphuric acid

All of the train’s 26 carriageswagons overturned at the Quarrells site, 20km east of Julia Creek, on Sunday. (Photo credit: The Guardian)

Article courtesy of The Guardian| December 29, 2015 | The Guardian| Shared as educational material

Emergency crews are working on a new access point and hope it will allow experts to further examine the wreckage of the train which derailed on Sunday

A derailed freight train that spilled tens of thousands of litres of sulphuric acid in north-west Queensland is set to undergo further tests amid fears the toxic cargo will contaminate nearby water.

All of the train’s 26 wagons overturned at the Quarrells site, 20km east of Julia Creek, on Sunday.

Heavy rain and muddy ground have hampered efforts to reach the train, roughly 100m from the nearest road.

Police said the train was carrying 819,000 litres of the highly corrosive acid, of which 31,500 litres leaked from one wagon.

Grazier Maurice Hicks said he was worried the spilled acid would contaminate water on his property.

“There’s a hell of a lot of it there – if it keeps leaking we are certainly concerned,” he told ABC radio.

McKinlay shire deputy mayor Tony Batt said floodwaters had made it difficult for the train to be properly assessed.

A police exclusion zone of 2km around the area is not expected to be lifted until at least Thursday and the clean-up could take weeks.

Queensland environment minister Steven Miles said a team of senior environmental protection officers had joined the operation.

“They have done some testing in local waterways and they haven’t yet identified any contamination, which is good news,” he said.

“It suggests the sulphuric acid could be contained geographically, which would make it much easier to handle, but we won’t know more and if that’s really the case until we can access the site.”

He said it was too early to suggest whether safety measures for freight trains carrying toxic chemicals should be strengthened.

“Obviously down the track we’ll look more at what’s happened and what could have been done to prevent it,” he said.

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