Liberty County OEM: Four people treated after possible exposure to unknown chemical

The rail yard on CR 493 in Dayton is shown in this Google Earth image.

Four people working Friday night in a rail yard on CR 493 off of US 90 in Dayton may have been exposed to a chemical being transported in a railcar, though no chemical source or leak was ever found, authorities say.

According to Bill Hergemueller, director of the Liberty County Office of Emergency Management and county fire marshal, he was alerted to the possible chemical exposure by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office after four rail yard workers complained of nausea, headaches and throat irritation. They were transported by personal vehicles to Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.

The rail yard, which Hergemueller says is shared by BNSF and Union Pacific railroads, was completely evacuated while authorities began looking for a railcar that might be leaking a hazardous chemical.

“We believe it might have been a vent or valve on a railcar that might have burped, like a pressure release, or that some of the chemicals might have been spilled in moving the railcar. We just don’t know. We never found anything. There were representatives from both the railroad companies there, and they were trying to locate any issues with cars. We were all trying to find out what was going on,” Hergemueller said.

Safety data sheets were pulled off the cars that were closest to the employees at the time of the suspected exposure. They contained ethylene oxide – used to make antifreeze, plastics, adhesives and detergents, sulfuric acid – used to refine petroleum and produce other chemicals and batteries, and hydrochloric acid – used in oil production and cleaning products.

“We were relaying information back to the hospital. They were treating them appropriately for ethylene oxide and sulfuric acid exposure. We had ruled out hydrochloric acid because they weren’t experiencing really bad respiratory issues. They were all treated and released,” he said.

While no trace of chemicals was ever found, Hergemueller said every agency and responder treated the situation with a healthy dose of precaution.

“There was never any danger to the community. Had there been, we would have ordered a shelter in place,” he said.

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