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17,000 Gallons of Chemical Spilled, Thousands Evacuated

July 26, 1987

AVON, Ind. (AP) _ About 17,000 gallons of a flammable chemical spilled at a Conrail train yard Saturday when steel rods knocked a hole in a railroad tanker, injuring 24 people.

Up to 10,000 people were evacuated for about 12 hours.

The spill at Conrail’s Avon Yard occurred about 7 a.m. when the steel slipped from a flatbed car and ruptured the tanker coupled behind it, said Lt. Steve Golden of the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department.

More than 10,000 people from a two-mile by three-mile area around the site were evacuated, said Tom Drake, assistant chief of the Brownsburg Fire Department, who was at the scene.

However, both Conrail and the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department estimated the number of evacuees at 2,500. Officials said an exact count could not be immediately determined.

People were allowed to return to their homes about 7:30 p.m., said sheriff’s dispatcher Denise Morgan. ″We have reminded the evacuees, however, to ventilate their homes and open all doors and windows,″ she said.

Authorities identified the chemical as acetaldehyde, a colorless liquid used to form other chemicals, and said its fumes are flammable and corrosive. The fumes can irritate eyes, nose and skin.

Fifteen people including eight residents of the area were treated and released at Hendricks County Hospital, said an admissions office spokeswoman who would not give her name. Five other employees were treated and at Indianapolis Methodist Hospital and released, Conrail spokesman Bob Libkind said from the company’s Philadelphia office.

In addition, four firefighters were treated at the scene for heat exposure as temperatures hovered in the low 90s, officials said.

The leak was fairly well contained about 1 p.m., Drake said, and crews dressed in hazardous materials gear began transferring the remaining chemical into another tanker about 3:15 p.m. Cleanup continued into the night.

Libkind said the original tanker had contained about 29,000 gallons of acetaldehyde and about 12,000 gallons of the chemical was transferred, meaning that about 17,000 gallons had leaked out. He said much of it had dissipated through evaporation.

The chemical shipment originated in South Bay, Texas, and was en route to Indianapolis, he said.

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