Emergency Evacuations and Ongoing Fire Threat as Train Derailment Spills Molten Sulfur in Kentucky

Emergency Evacuations and Ongoing Fire Threat as Train Derailment Spills Molten Sulfur in Kentucky

Livingston, Kentucky – November 23, 2023

Urgent evacuations are still in progress in central Kentucky as authorities grapple with a train derailment that occurred on the eve of Thanksgiving. Over a dozen freight train cars, including two carrying molten sulfur, derailed north of Livingston, sparking a fire that remains only 50% contained as of Thursday morning.

The operator of the train, CSX, confirmed the derailment and the breach of two molten sulfur cars in a statement on Wednesday. Livingston, a small city situated approximately 60 miles south of Lexington, now faces a hazardous situation with the molten sulfur fire.

When molten sulfur burns, it releases sulfur dioxide, a colorless gas with a potent scent. Depending on exposure levels, it can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, while its liquid form could lead to frostbite, as highlighted by the “US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s office stated on Wednesday urging residents of Livingston to evacuate. By Thursday morning, 50% of the fire had been contained, but evacuated residents were not permitted to return home.

Due to the derailment, many families in Livingston will spend Thanksgiving displaced, prompting Governor Beshear to appeal for thoughts and prayers for a swift resolution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is actively monitoring sulfur dioxide levels in the county. EPA on-site coordinator Matthew Huyser stated that while levels initially rose, they have decreased with ongoing firefighting efforts. Brief exposure to sulfur dioxide can have detrimental effects on the respiratory system, particularly for children and individuals with asthma.

CSX has committed to providing food, shelter, and Thanksgiving dinner for displaced families, emphasizing their dedication to assisting those affected by the incident.

Residents like Linda Todd, who evacuated her Livingston home, expressed the urgency of the situation. Governor Beshear declared a “state of emergency,” initiating the activation of the state’s Emergency Operations Center to ensure the utilization of all available resources for the safety of the public.

The derailment occurred just before 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, with one crew member treated for minor injuries. CSX reported that two other derailed cars were carrying magnesium hydroxide, showing no signs of breach, while the remaining impacted cars held non-hazardous products or were empty.

The crash forced the closure of US 25 in both directions from the Laurel County line to Calloway Branch Road, with no confirmed timeline for reopening. CSX is collaborating with local officials to secure the scene and develop a recovery plan, offering support to affected residents through lodging and meals in Mt. Vernon, KY.

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