1. Archive

Residents express concern about railroad cleanup

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Since a 184-car train derailed near his home more than three years ago, Howard Hunt said, chickens and rabbits have been born deformed and he and his neighbors worry that their wells might be contaminated.

The cars crumpled like soda cans, spilling diesel fuel and fertilizer into ditches when the train jumped the tracks in this community just before Thanksgiving 1988.

Hunt said that CSX Transportation hasn't cleaned up all of the chemical mess and that his property floods more often since railroad workers filled a drainage ditch on his side of the tracks.

"We never had flooding before the train wreck," said Earl Alexander, who has lived in the area for 60 years.

Alexander and Hunt said they also are concerned about their wells, which are a few feet from the tracks.

Mary Yeargan, an environmental specialist in the state Department of Environmental Regulation's Tampa office, asked the Polk County Health Department to test the wells.

But the county can't submit samples to the state laboratory until Feb. 21 because of a backlog at the lab, said Milton Boring, the environmental supervisor in charge of the health department's well testing.

In November 1989, however, six wells were checked for compounds that could have come from the diesel fuel, he said, and none was found.

Hunt said that after some of his chickens and rabbits were born with deformed feet he began to worry about his own health.

A more likely cause of abnormal skeletal development is inbreeding over several generations, said Henry Wilson, University of South Florida poultry science expert.

Fertilizer contamination usually causes thin eggshells, which means eggs don't hatch, he said. It might be a good idea to take soil samples anyway, Wilson said, because other chemicals could be leaching out of the soil as a result of the spill.

CSX spokesman Lynn Johnson said the company just completed a monthlong, $100,000 cleanup that involved removing contaminated soil and replacing it with clean fill.

He said that he had heard nothing about Hunt's complaints and that people he talked to who are involved in the cleanup are surprised to hear there are problems.

State environmental regulators said they haven't been in contact with the railroad about the cleanup since 1990 but are looking into the matter.

Ms. Yeargan said DER has asked CSX to submit additional information about its cleanup plans.