Derailed Petcoke Train Near Prince George Also Carried Methanol, LNG
Cleaning up the 40 tonnes of petroleum coke that spilled into a local creek will not be an easy task, but far worse could have happened if derailed cars containing toxic methanol and liquid petroleum had ruptured, according to updates on the recent CN derailment northeast of Prince George.
CBC reports that clean-up crews will face a “challenging” task to remove the petroleum coke (also called petcoke) from a 20-metre stretch of Hay Creek, which runs through the community of Giscome and is part of the Fraser River watershed.
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A byproduct of the tar sands/oil sands refining process, petcoke occurs in both solid and powder forms, and the powder is tougher to contain and clean up. Officials from the B.C. Ministry of the Environment confirmed that much of the petcoke that spilled into Hay Creek was powder.
Dale Bull, senior environmental emergency response officer with the ministry, told CBC the spill seems to have been contained to a small stretch of the creek, with no evidence of downstream contamination. But getting the silt-like petcoke powder out of the water will be a challenge.
CN clean-up crews “have been using skirted booms and silt curtains to physically remove the substance from the water and creek banks,” CBC says. Once this task has been completed, the company “will use excavators to clean up nearby soil and snow and move the recovered petroleum coke out of the area.”
While a statement released by CN described petcoke as “non-hazardous,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that petcoke dust does “present a health risk,” with easily-inhaled particles 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller posing a particular threat to the heart and lungs.
CBC writes that the federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) “has concluded its onsite investigation”, and “the cause of the derailment isn’t yet known.”
In addition to petcoke, the train was carrying methanol in one of the cars that derailed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies methanol as highly toxic, with vapours that are especially dangerous. In its own update on the derailment, the Toronto Star reports that seven of the 28 cars that went off the track contained liquefied petroleum gas, a substance “classified by the federal government as a flammable and dangerous commodity.”
Fortunately, in this derailment, the cars carrying the methanol and LPG remained intact.