AG: Derailment led to massive fish kill
State wants rail company to pay
ROCKFORD – The state is officially linking a fish kill from Grand Detour to Prophetstown in 2009 to a train derailment near Rockford.
This week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed an amended legal complaint against Canadian National, whose train derailed in east Rockford on July 19, 2009.
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The incident sparked a daylong fire, killing a woman and injuring nine people. About 700 people were evacuated.
Tens of thousands of gallons of ethanol from the train emptied into a nearby creek, flowed to the Kishwaukee River and ended up in the Rock River, the complaint states.
According to the state, an estimated 72,000 fish died as a result. The state says Canadian National is liable for the value of aquatic life lost, but the attorney general didn’t say what that value was.
Shortly after the derailment, a state conservation police officer investigating the fish kill “smelled a strong, sweet odor” that he recognized as ethanol, the complaint states. He detected the smell at the Oppold Marina in Sterling and at the Arduini Boat Ramp in Rock Falls.
He knew this odor because of experience with an ethanol tanker truck spill on Interstate 88.
The officer saw dead fish along the Rock River from north of Grand Detour, nearly 50 miles downstream from the derailment site, to Prophetstown.
The affected stretch of river is 54 miles. It took that distance to have an effect because of the “time of travel,” said Dan Sallee of the state Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s a biological process of bacteria consuming alcohol [ethanol] compounds and then dying. As they die, they rot, decompose and take the oxygen out of the water,” Sallee said.
With the oxygen levels down, fish become stressed and potentially suffocate, according to the state complaint.
At 9 p.m. July 19, 2009, 19 train cars derailed. Each car contained 30,000 gallons of ethanol, according to the complaint. Thirteen of them caught on fire.
Two cars that didn’t catch on fire spilled their ethanol contents into the surrounding area, flowing into the creek.
According to the complaint, the ethanol reduced food supplies in the Rock River, lowered water quality, left the remaining population less able to respond to adverse conditions and reduced the breeding population.
The attorney general wants Canadian National to reimburse the state Department of Natural Resources for restocking and restoring the river.
Scott Mulford, an attorney general’s spokesman, said the costs are “undetermined at this point.”
The state filed the original complaint in Winnebago County court in 2009, claiming environmental damage from the spill.
“We’re still negotiating a settlement,” Mulford said. “If we can reach a settlement that’s equitable to all parties, that’s certainly advantageous.”
Canadian National spokesman Patrick Waldron said his company continues to work with the attorney general’s office seeking a resolution.
“We disagree with the assertion that the spill caused the fish kill,” he said. “With the pending litigation, we don’t have any further comment.”
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