© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Tanker In Dupo Train Derailment Fire Apparently Was Carrying A Solvent, Railroad Says

Onlookers stop in a parking lot across the from the fire in the Dupo train yard. Sept. 10, 2019
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat
Onlookers stop in a parking lot across the from the fire in the Dupo train yard.

Fire erupted in a train derailment Tuesday afternoon in Dupo, where schools and some residents were evacuated but no injuries were reported.

Initial information indicates that a tank car containing a flammable liquid called “methyl isobutyl ketone” was involved in the fire, according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South.

“It is typically used as a solvent,” South said in an email.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methyl isobutyl ketone is used for gums, resins, paints, varnishes, lacquers and nitrocellulose (also known as flash paper or flash cotton).
“The train was being built for departure at the time of the derailment, which caused a tank car to catch fire,” South said.

A KMOV-Channel 4 video shows that over 10 train cars were derailed and flames were shooting from the wreckage.

Dupo Mayor Jerry Wilson said students from Dupo High School and a grade school were evacuated to Columbia as a precautionary measure.

Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, said in Facebook post at about 3 p.m. that residents in the Flora Acres area should evacuate their homes. Previously, he said residents in the Adams neighborhood and the Stony Brook mobile home park had been asked to leave their homes as a precautionary measure until firefighters say it is OK to return.

Those people were allowed to go back home by 4 p.m., Simmons said. The cleanup of the site is expected to take several hours.

The derailment occurred about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in Union Pacific’s Dupo Yard near Carondelet Avenue between Main and Adams Road, South said.

Big, black plumes of smoke could be seen for miles around the fire, but by 3 p.m. the cloud of smoke had dissipated.

Residents React

Lorene Lord, who lives across the street from the derailment, said she heard a noise like trains bumping together and then she heard sirens.

“I was afraid because there is a chemical plant right there and I didn’t know what was happening,” Lord said.

Lord said she watched the smoke from the fire for about an hour but then she was asked to leave her home.

Tina Sheldon of Dupo was working at a nearby Huck’s convenience store then the fire broke out.

“I saw a big, black cloud of smoke and when I stepped outside it smelled yeasty, like someone was baking bread,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said her brother works at the Dupo rail yard and he told her that it “felt like an earthquake” when the fire started.

Federal Investigation

“Ameren will be cutting power to the East Carondelet community soon. This is due to high tension lines over the fire,” the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency said in a Facebook post at about 1:45 p.m.Federal Railroad Administration personnel and hazmat responders will investigate the derailment, according to a statement from the agency.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, this would be the 331st reported railroad incident in St. Clair County since 2000, causing more than $18 million in damages. More than half of those incidents (214 of them) related either to human error or issues with track. Only Cook County had more. Madison County, by contrast, had 136 reported incidents and Monroe just five.

Methyl Isobutyl Ketone

According to the EPA, short-term exposure to methyl isobutyl ketone can cause irritation to the eyes and mucous membranes, as well as weakness, headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting, dizziness, incoordination and drowsiness.

Long-term occupational exposure has been observed to cause nausea, headaches, burning in the eyes, weakness, insomnia, intestinal pain and slight enlargement of the liver, an EPA report stated.

The same report stated that the most probable route of exposure to methyl isobutyl ketone is by inhalation or skin contact with products that contain the compound. It can also be released into the environment by emissions from manufacturing, exhaust gas from vehicles and in land disposal and ocean dumping of waste that contains the compound.

The EPA does not classify methyl isobutyl ketone as a carcinogen for humans or animals.

Matt Koziatek and Hana Muslic are reporters with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.