University Place - A hazardous chemical that created a scare when it spilled after a freight train derailed and sideswiped another near Chambers Bay Golf Course did not leak into Puget Sound and poses no risk to the public, officials said Sunday.
BNSF Railway crews and contractors worked throughout the day and night Saturday and Sunday to clean up the area where 50 gallons of sodium hydroxide, or lye, soaked the shoreline.
The chemical is used in industry and to regulate the pH levels of water but can be hazardous and cause breathing problems and burns.
The southbound train that was struck was hauling garbage from Everett to Roosevelt, near Kelso. Its two derailed cars were set right early Sunday, and the freight train was pulled away. The tracks were scheduled to reopen late Sunday afternoon.
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A BNSF spokesman said there was a possibility that the northbound tracks could open at midnight but that cleanup might take three weeks.
Crews began the time-intensive task of transferring the chemical from four toppled railcars into tanker cars Sunday afternoon, a process that could take six hours per car.
Three railcars lay in a line on the shore, with a fourth lying perpendicular with a boxcar partly atop it. U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matt Denning said that during high tide, about a foot of the once-leaking railcar was submerged in water.
The chemical leaked for more than five hours through a metal bolt that was sheared off during the 8:30 p.m. derailment.
Shortly after the accident, first responders placed a plastic bag beneath the spill and caught roughly half of the lye. The other 25 gallons sunk into the sand and will dilute over time.
“We’re very fortunate that a (only) small amount of sodium hydroxide leaked onto the shoreline,” said Ron Holcomb, a hazardous-materials specialist with the state Department of Ecology. “Whenever a chemical substance hits the environment, there’s an impact. But the impact is localized to this area.”
BNSF is investigating the cause of the derailment, which sent 12 cars careening off the tracks and derailed two others on the southbound train after it was sideswiped.
Four of the railcars on the northbound train, which was heading from Portland to Vancouver, B.C., were each carrying up to 15,000 gallons of lye.
Twenty pieces of heavy equipment were brought in to move the derailed cars.