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News / Northwest

Diesel fuel from derailment found in groundwater

By Emma Fletcher-Frazer, Skagit Valley Herald
Published: March 22, 2023, 7:44am

MOUNT VERNON — Diesel fuel from the BNSF Railway train derailment Thursday on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation has made its way into the groundwater, according to a news release from a multiagency disaster response team.

The team consists of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Ecology, BNSF Railway, the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

After two locomotives pulling five cars derailed, one locomotive leaked fuel.

The news release stated that up to 3,100 gallons of diesel was spilled, and about 600 gallons were recovered from the ground.

Ty Keltner, Ecology’s communications manager for spills prevention, preparedness and response, said the majority of the cleanup has been completed.

The unified command team put in place Thursday has since been dissolved, according to Keltner. Since the spill occurred on tribal land and is above the mean high water mark, the main contact for the cleanup is now the EPA.

Crews have removed about 2,100 cubic yards of contaminated soil and 4,300 gallons of groundwater from the site. Crews detected a sheen on the groundwater, which indicates the presence of diesel.

The news release stated that the groundwater contained less than 50 gallons of diesel fuel.

Crew have installed groundwater monitoring wells, which will detect any residual diesel fuel that migrates into the groundwater.

Remediation tools referred to as sparging units have been installed. The units speed the breakdown and removal of any remaining diesel fuel in the soil.

The length of time for the remediation process in undetermined, according to EPA Public Affairs Specialist Bill Dunbar. The EPA will know when the monitors are reading no more diesel at the site and the sparging units are no longer processing any diesel.

No diesel was found in the bay, and no impacts to fish or wildlife have been observed.

Dunbar said that diesel, unlike oil, is very thin and breaks down quickly. He said that if it had caused environmental effects, they would likely have already been seen.

“We dodged a bullet here,” Dunbar said. “It could have been much, much worse.”

He called the incident a good test of the emergency response and communication between federal, local, state and tribal governments.

“(The derailment) stressed the system and it held up,” Dunbar said.

The Skagit Valley Herald reached out to BNSF Railway for comment and did not receive a response.