Train derails near La Grande; leak not hazardous

LA GRANDE — A small amount of a corrosive chemical was released early Wednesday when a Union Pacific freight train derailed in Eastern Oregon's Grande Ronde Valley.

The railroad said it was a chemical mixture, and the primary ingredient was sodium hydroxide, an industrial chemical known as lye.

The State Police said in a statement there was "no significant hazardous material leak."

Workers at the scene southeast of La Grande described it as a drip from a valve, said Sgt. Kyle Hove.

No one was hurt. The train westbound from Nebraska to the Portland area had a two-member crew and 82 cars. Union Pacific said 28 derailed, and six of those were on their sides.

Besides a "very small amount" of the sodium hydroxide blend, a small amount of diesel fuel was released from refrigerated rail cars and was contained, said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt. He said in an email that the releases didn't affect any waterways.

For a time, authorities advised a dozen households and a few nearby businesses to evacuate. As a precaution, authorities spread the word to a mile around the site. The advisory was later lifted.

"Some people sheltered in place, some people left," Hove said.

Lee Manuel, owner of the Hot Lake Springs resort, said she had about a dozen guests who had to leave at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

A stretch of Oregon 203 near Hot Lake was closed and then reopened to one lane of traffic while heavy equipment operators worked on the derailed cars.

The tracks run parallel to the highway, which is just east of Interstate 84.

Hunt said the train had a mix of freight. There were no releases from another tank car, which contained glycol, and a tanker that normally carries benzene was empty, he said. All three tankers remained upright, he said.

There was no immediate indication of what caused the derailment, Hunt said.


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