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Leaking rail car spills into Mississippi

The environmental impact of last week's tank car leak near Prescott is still being assessed by officials from both the state of Minnesota and BNSF Railway.

A BNSF official said approximately 20,000 gallons of ethylene glycol leaked from the tank car.

Despite the amount of the spill, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are hopeful the environmental impact will be minimal.

Ethylene glycol is primarily used in the manufacture of automotive antifreeze/coolant. It is the main ingredient in airplane deicers.

The incident was first reported to Pierce County authorities by a BNSF train crew about 4 p.m.

A crewman said the 76th car on the eastbound freight was leaking fluid, and they were requesting a response by the Prescott Fire Department.

"The very first thing we do is deal with the safety issues of any leak or derailment," said Steve Forsberg, a BNSF spokesman.

Forsberg said the entire contents of the tank car emptied out after the tank car leaked and then buckled.

"The cause of the leak and the buckling are still under investigation. Neither of those things should have happened," Forsberg said.

According to John Townsend, assistant fire chief for the Hastings Fire Department, some of the chemical went into the Mississippi River and some went into the ground.

Forsberg said BNSF environmental specialists found that most of the chemical went into the water because of the way the car buckled.

Hastings Fire Department responded because the tank was on the Minnesota side of the river. Hastings crews were on the scene from about 4:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The Dakota County Special Operations hazardous materials team was called to the scene along with several other local and Minnesota state agencies.

The area of the river near the spill was frozen, but Townsend said the chemical seeped under the ice and into the water and could be seen about a half mile downriver where the water was open.

"The biggest environmental impact is when it hits the water and pulls oxygen out of the water, which means there will be a good possibility of a fish kill," said Steve Brungardt, information officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The DNR had not had any reports of fish kills by late last week.

"At this point, we don't know what the affects of this spill will be," said Marilyn Danks, an aquatic biologist with the DNR.

Danks said the Mississippi is a big body of water and right now because of the cold temperatures, it has a high oxygen content, which would lessen the impact of the ethylene glycol.

"I am hopeful we won't see any fish kills," Danks said.

Forsberg said BNSF environmental specialists say it will take about 10 days for the chemical to dissolve and degrade.

"We are developing plans for water testing both upstream and downstream from the point of the spill," Forsberg said.

BNSF shut down both sets of tracks along the line immediately following the spill, according to Forsberg.

However, at around 7:55 p.m., railway officials opened one set of the tracks. The second set remained closed last Thursday morning.

Also last Thursday, BNSF crews used a cutting torch to cut the buckled train car into two pieces when a spark flew off the torch and ignited the train's insulation and an absorbent pad that had been placed inside the car.

Hastings Fire crews were called to the scene to put out the blaze. Fire Chief Mike Schutt said the flames were contained inside the car.