PHOTOS: Firefighters contain spill in downtown WRJ rail yard

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Eric Francis

Liquid rock salt poisonous but not considered a threat

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - Hartford firefighters spent nearly three hours Thursday evening bringing a leak next to a railroad tank car under control along a section of railroad track that runs between the Amtrak Depot and the trestle which spans over the Connecticut River to West Lebanon.

    Hartford police officers were following up a tip shortly before 9 p.m. and looking for some homeless people who were thought to be camping alongside the large triangle of track known to railroaders as "the wye" when they noticed a pipe coming from a large stationary tank beside the rails was leaking.

Firefighters take a close look at the liquid drizzling out of the pipe Thursday evening

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    The tank was labeled "calcium chloride" which is a product firefighters described as "essentially liquid rock salt" that is routinely off-loaded from railroad tank cars in the wye and transferred to 18-wheel tanker trucks before it is sprayed on dirt roads around the region to control dust.  In the form it is typically applied it is not considered dangerous but in large concentrations it can harm people, birds and dogs in particular.

    The leak, which was running from the pipe at approximately the rate of a kitchen faucet, had formed a pool on the gravel access road in the middle of the wye several yards across and a few inches deep but fire crews said it was difficult to estimate how many gallons had actually spilled before the incident was brought under control at 11:30 p.m.    

Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney (center) discusses the situation with firefighters Taylor Wilkins and Mike Tidwell

    After assessing the situation up close and contacting the Green Mountain Railroad for guidance, four firefighters went back in with Self-Contained Breathing Air gear and bolt cutters, removed several chains and locks, and eventually found a valve that allowed them to reduce the flow down to a trickle.

    "After some consultation, we identified the liquid as calcium chloride and we were comfortable going in and stopping the flow until Green Mountain's crews can get here," Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney explained at the scene, noting that since the liquid is meant to be sprayed on roads in the first place and it appeared to be contained to the immediate area it will be left up to GMRR to decide how to proceed on Friday.  "They may or may not have to clean it up depending on the product," the chief said.

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