Edmonton Journal Thu Aug 4 2005 Page: A1 / FRONT Section: News Byline: Larissa Liepins, with files from Hanneke Brooymans Dateline: WHITEWOOD SANDS Source: The Edmonton Journal
WHITEWOOD SANDS -A freight train derailed 65 kilometres west of Edmonton early Wednesday, spilling up to 1.3 million litres of oil, much of which made its way into Wabamun Lake.
There were no reported injuries in the 5:20 a.m. accident, but 22 residents of the Lakeside subdivision of Whitewood Sands, just west of the Village of Wabamun, were evacuated after industrial fuel from 15 tanker cars spilled onto the land and into the lake.
"When it happened, it was so loud I thought it was an airplane crash," said Wendy Roberts, who lives about two kilometres from the spill site.
By 4 p.m. the 300-metre-wide oil slick had spread five kilometres down the lake, occasionally hitting the shoreline along the way.
Out of 140 cars in a Vancouver-bound train from Edmonton, 43 derailed in three sections. Twenty-six of them contained a partially refined petroleum product called bunker C fuel.
CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the fuel leaked from cars that contained up to 88,586 litres each.
Lake Wabamun is 22 kilometres long and 8 kilometres across.
Twenty-eight cars near the front of the train derailed, while another 15 came off the tracks near the back end, crumpling into one another.
"They were piled like cordwood," said Agnes Rainer, who lives near the lakeshore. "There was a loud 'bang, bang, bang' as the train cars hit each other in a chain reaction. Then the power went off in the house and stayed off for two hours."
Charles Hutton's porch directly overlooks where the train derailed just metres away. Although he wasn't home at the time, a rock shattered the outside pane of glass of his livingroom window.
"I expect CN to offer some compensation for my busted up footbridge, too," said Hutton, as heavy equipment dragged away wrecked train cars.
All along the shore, the stench of oil filled the air as crews scrambled to contain the spill with dams and long absorbent booms.
Officials said the spill was contained at its source by 1:30 p.m. and the focus turned to the cleanup.
However, equipment used to skim the oil from the lake was still en route late Wednesday evening.
Cottage owners along the slick spent the afternoon frantically trying to keep the oil from reaching their shorelines.
Patti Kearn, who took possession of her Sherwin Beach cottage only one month ago, watched anxiously as the oil spread into the marshes at either side of her property.
"Every hour, it's getting closer and closer and we haven't seen one CN person and they don't answer our calls," said Kearn.
Capital Health inspected the site and later advised people against swimming, fishing or boating in the lake.
The Transportation Safety Board was investigating the cause of the derailment, but Feeny said it appears there was nothing wrong with the track. "Up to 35 trains ride this track every 24 hours. With such a busy line, we inspect twice a week." Feeny said he didn't know whom residents should contact for information, adding, "I understand people are frustrated but a response of this nature takes time." Booms were not available to the public, he added.
But some locals who made their way to a nearby command centre obtained booms from Hazco, a company contracted by CN to help with the cleanup.
In the meantime, people evacuated from homes between the lake and the track will not be allowed to return until later today, at the earliest, Const. Craig Albers said.
Fred Lindsey, the local MLA, said: "The important thing is to get a perimeter around the whole spill."
However, Feeny said crews are merely trying to prevent the oil from spreading further. Traffic is not expected to resume on the transnational track until next week, he said.
Local residents expressed frustration that CN was focused more on clearing and fixing the track instead of dealing with the spill.
"They'll work around the clock on that track, but I haven't seen one single CN personnel out on the lake," said Bill Van Rassel,
transnational track until next week, he said. whose boat was coated in black, sticky oil from driving along the slick from Whitewood Sands to Wabamun.
"That stuff is like tar, not oil, so they might as well be using Q-Tips," said Rassel, referring to the thin white booms. "With a spill this size, they should have bigger, better equipment."
"We don't know who will be doing the cleanup, or when," said Brad Ledig, a spokesman for Alberta Environment.
Ledig said his department is only responsible for monitoring the quality of the environment by sampling water, soil and lake sediment as the cleanup progresses. "Our inspector says he hasn't come across any affected wildlife."
But at the foot of Rainer's waterfront property, scores of marsh birds were trying in vain to clean themselves of the oil that completely covered them. Several more birds in the water struggled to stay afloat.
Herons, loons, coots and ducks are common to the area, but no booms appear to have been deployed around any of the sensitive marsh environments.
The spill's effect could last a couple of years beyond the end of the cleanup, said Myles Kitagawa, associate director of the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta.
Kitagawa said he does not expect the ecological effects of this spill to be much different than a spill of crude oil.
People tend to be very interested in the immediate effects on the ecosystem because they can see images of blackened animals, which are poisoned or drowned by the oil. But Kitagawa said he expects almost everything in this ecosystem to be affected by the spill.
Given the damage these spills can cause, it's crucial to quickly contain and clean up these accidents, he said. "I don't think we will ever be able to prevent accidents, so the next best thing to do is have a very sensitive and robust emergency response plan in place."