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Officials hopeful on environmental impact of tanker car spill

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

A BNSF official says that 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 primary 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 that 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.

He added that at one time BNSF had a couple of dozen people working on problem.

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.

However, Forsberg said that 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 - 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 down river 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.

However, the DNR had not had any reports of fish kills by late Thursday morning.

"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 that the Mississippi is a big body of water and right now because of the cold temperatures 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 that BNSF environmental specialists say that 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 shutdown 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 Thursday morning.

Steve Dzubay contributed to this story.

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