Officials give update on damage left behind after Harmar Township train derailment

·3 min read

Emergency crews and Norfolk Southern contractors are working around the clock to clean up the scene of a train derailment.

On Friday night, contractors lined Freeport Road with bulldozers, cranes, and personnel — all working to get the massive oil tankers upright and removed.

Officials shared during a Friday afternoon press conference that time was of the essence as emergency crews worked to contain fuel and keep it out of the water.

“We will be testing the water in a couple of areas,” said Ann DiDonato with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

During the conference, officials confirmed the fuel had been contained.

“All the leaks that are on the land seem to appear to remain on the land,” said Chief Matt Brown of Allegheny County Emergency Services.

Responders also updated information that was released Thursday night, stating that sweet crude oil had not seeped into the Allegheny River as they had thought.

“The cars are carrying a product from Williams Company called natural gas condensate sweet,” said Don Bialosky, the emergency response manager of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In short, the train was carrying a petroleum distillate — a fuel-like substance that can give off a kerosene odor and is combustible. But just how safe is this area?

“This is a dangerous area right now, it’s going to be for the next few days, so stay away,” said Bruno Moretti of the Allegheny Valley Regional Emergency Management Agency.

Emergency responders on the scene urged people to stay away and experts agreed that right now, it’s critical to map out a cleanup plan, whether the water was contaminated or not.

“There are all sorts of absorbance and things they can use to clean up the oil that spilled and get things back to normal,” said University of Pittsburgh professor Leonard Casson.

So where does this clean-up begin? Officials say the first step is getting the tankers out of the water.

“They’re focused on those tank cars first, because of the petroleum distillate,” said Brown.

Experts say the incident should not impact the sewage plant or the nearby water plant, but they’ll begin testing Friday night into Saturday.

“We’ll just be looking right initially where we think there may be an issue with their admission,” said DiDonato.

Finally, the rebuilding process will get underway, which emergency crews say can take weeks.

“It can be a couple of days to a week, and there still will be lingering issues, even after that,” said Brown.

Freeport Road will remain closed during this cleanup. Likewise, mile markers 12 to 14 along the Allegheny River will also remain closed unless official permission is given to access the area.

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