On November 14, 2021 at approximately 00:00 hours a BNSF train struck the nose of a barge resulting in the derailment of two locomotives and five coal cars along the Mississippi River near River Mile Marker 372. For reasons unknown, the barge grounded along the Mississippi River bank bordering Iowa and was resting within the BNSF right-of-way. Each locomotive was carrying approximately 2,300 gallons diesel fuel and each coal car was loaded with up to 117 tons of coal. Red-dye diesel fuel was discharged to the right-of-way and eventually into the Mississippi River. Three of the coal cars became submerged in the Mississippi River. Coal is a considered a miscellaneous non-petroleum oil by the U.S Coast Guard.
BNSF promptly responded to the scene and began source control of the diesel fuel. U.S. Coast Guard arrived shortly thereafter to ensure no release from the barge occurred as commercial vessels are within their jurisdiction. Two On-scene Coordinators mobilized that morning to oversee BNSF response actions as releases from on-shore facilities are within EPA's jurisdiction. Response actions are also being conducted in coordination with Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as the incident occurred within an area that contains critical habitat for an endangered mussel species.
A bathymetry surveyor, contracted by BNSF, characterized the extent of coal discharged into the Mississippi River on 11/22/2021. The results of the survey indicated that approximately 760 cubic yards of coal lay within the area where the railcars entered the Mississippi River.
Coordination between BNSF, EPA, USFWS, IDNR, USCG, and USACE regarding coal recovery from the Mississippi River channel occurred through the first several weeks of December 2021 to determine an appropriate recovery strategy due to the potential presence of a federally-listed mollusk species in the affected substrate. recovered materials would be inspected by USFWS and IDNR personnel to determine whether any ecological damages had occurred. Coal recovery was conducted on December 17, 2021 with oversight provided by IDNR and USCG. Impacts to aquatic species were observed during coal recovery. It is anticipated that IDNR and USFWS will coordinate with BNSF and the USCG National Pollution Fund Center to determine an appropriate route to assess natural resource damages.
After several weeks where free product had not been observed in/on surface water and prior to a freeze event along the Mississippi River shoreline, protection boom maintenance was discontinued on 12/29/2021. Potholes were installed inland from the shoreline within the BNSF right-of-way, to enhance diesel recovery and minimize migration to the surface water. Sorbent booms were installed inside potholes and along adjacent shorelines. The recovery potholes are being maintained on a bi-weekly basis.
BNSF plans to continue maintenance of diesel recovery pits on a bi-weekly basis through February 16, 2022 or until product recovery is complete.