At least seven cars of a freight train plunged into Montana’s Yellowstone River Saturday after a derailment and bridge collapse, causing asphalt and molten sulfur to leak into the water, authorities said.
Officials were investigating whether the derailment or bridge collapse occurred first, as well as how much of the cargo had spilled into the river. What led to the derailment was not immediately known, officials said.
The cars of the train, operated by Montana Rail Link, derailed at around 6:45 am local time as it headed west into Stillwater County, the county’s Department of Emergency and Disaster Services said on Facebook.
Andy Garland, a spokesman for the Montana Rail Link, said no one was injured. Mr. Garland said two cars were carrying sodium hydrosulfate, but neither had gone into the water or been breached.
Three cars of hot asphalt and four cars of molten sulfur were in the river, officials said. Both substances have been described as « slow moving ».
David Stamey, the chief of emergency services in Stillwater County, said by phone that both spilled substances solidified quickly in the water. That means potential harmful effects to the environment could be limited, especially if uptake is limited, he said.
Ten rail cars in total derailed, Stamey said. The derailment occurred between Reed Point and Columbus, an area about an hour west of Billings.
Referring to the cars, the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office said in a « major stroke of luck, none of them contained oil. » Officials said no impact of hazardous materials is anticipated on cities in the county.
The Yellowstone County Department of Emergency and Disaster Services said there were « no adverse impacts » as of early Saturday afternoon.
Video of the scene showed the collapsed bridge with train cars peeking above the rushing water. It wasn’t immediately clear when the bridge was built or when it was last inspected.
Mr. Garland said Montana Rail Link is « committed to addressing any potential impacts to the area as a result of this accident and working to understand the reasons behind the accident. »
In Yellowstone County, which has about 167,000 residents, officials said they planned to shut off the water supply long enough for any materials to pass through Billings.
Similar measures have been implemented at water treatment plants in Stillwater County, where approximately 9,000 people live.
Officials notified residents « to be aware of the situation and ready to act if something were to change ».
The Montana derailment came about four months after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in eastern Ohio, starting a fire that covered the eastern Palestine city in smoke. That derailment sparked health and environmental concerns for residents.