After train derailment, Illinois’s rivers are burning

With this piece we are celebrating our 50th article! Thank you to everyone who has followed our work so far and we promise to keep publishing throughout the year and beyond.

On Thursday, September 5th, a train derailed in Dupo Illinois. Fourteen (or thirteen, depending on the source) separate train cars went off the rails, including a tanker car carrying a highly flammable liquid chemical. The chemical in the tanker car began burning immediately, sending huge columns of black smoke into the sky. By some reports, the fire even burned unabated in nearby rivers. The official report, issued by Union Pacific railway, is below.

Around 12:45 p.m., approximately 14 rail cars derailed in Union Pacific’s Dupo Yard near Carondelet Avenue between Main and Adams Road. No injuries have been reported.

At the time of the derailment, a train was being built for departure; however, the exact cause remains under investigation. As a result of the derailment, a tank car caught fire. Initial information indicates that the tank car contained a flammable liquid called methyl isobutyl ketone, which is typically used as a solvent.

The fire was extinguished around 3:15 p.m. Following an air quality test, area evacuations were lifted at approximately 3:45 p.m. Out of an abundance of caution, CTEH, our environmental contractor, will continue to monitor air quality downwind and southwind at least 5 miles from the yard until further notice.

Union Pacific apologizes to the community for the impact this has caused. We’d also like to thank the first responders who put out the fire and helped with the evacuation. Union Pacific’s Hazmat personnel will remain on scene until remediation is complete.

Right now, we are working to remove the cars. Once that is finished, we will inspect the track and make any necessary repairs. We anticipate this being completed by early tomorrow.

According to the official report, the chemical in that tanker car was something called methyl isobutyl ketone. This chemical has been known to “irritate the eyes and mucous membranes and cause weakness, headache, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting, dizziness, incoordination, [and] narcosis” (see sources below) temporarily after acute exposure. However, the EPA has determined that it is not a cancer risk and and it has been “Provisional Reference consideration”. This essentially means that this chemical has not been proven to be dangerous, but there is some evidence that it may cause minor detrimental ill effects after extreme long term exposure, often over the course of a lifetime. For more detailed medical information, see sources.

Unfortunately, there’s one problem with this. According to the EPA and other chemistry sources below, methyl isobutyl ketone has a faint but pleasant ” faint ketonic and camphor odor”. According to one eye witness account, there was no smell at the scene of the fire. According to a second rail yard worker, it smelled yeasty, “like someone was baking bread”. What this means, if it means anything, this newspaper is not qualified to say, but it is an inconsistency in the reporting of this event. When chemical fires like this are involved, especially only 461 miles from this school, inconsistencies are more worrying than normal.



Former Editor in Chief of The City Voice, finally graduated City High Middle School as part of the Class of 2022.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

Oh wow this is really interesting, thanks for sharing!