- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2001

As the fire inside a Baltimore tunnel from a derailed train burned into its third day, firefighters struggled to remove hazardous chemicals from the 60-car CSX freight train and to reach the fire's source.
Health officials continued to assure the public that the fire presented no immediate health danger.
"The most important thing is that the air quality is absolutely not toxic and water supply is absolutely fine," Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson said.
But two members of a four-man team checking the condition of the cars yesterday suffered exhaustion and were taken to local hospitals for precautionary reasons, Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman John Verrico said.
Firefighters' efforts to reach the blaze have been hampered by smoke, poor visibility and intense heat, which has been estimated as high as 1,500 degrees. They were able to successfully drain 2,500 gallons of hydrochloric acid from a leaking car by dropping a hose more than 50 feet from a manhole above.
Mr. Verrico said that up to 5,000 gallons leaked from the car but that the limestone floor of the tunnel helped neutralize the acid. Some of the acid was feared to have leaked out in one of the sewer outflows from the tunnel, but pH tests — which measure acidity levels — yesterday confirmed that pH levels had returned to normal after a slight dip the previous day.
While more than 100 firefighters and emergency hazardous-chemical teams continued to work through the night, there was no indication of when the fire would be extinguishedmay need to be updated for later editions or a probable cause of Wednesday's derailment.
"We just don't know. It's in a tunnel. We just don't know what's going on in there. We can't rule out anything or point to anything," said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the derailment.
The 1-1/2mile-long tunnel below Howard Street, originally built in 1895 for the B&O; rail line, has increased the concern that concentrated fumes from chemicals, especially the hydrochloric acid, could affect the firefighters. Crews have been testing for any indications of fumes, which would be colorless and odorless, said Mr. Beilenson.
Cost estimates for the cleanup are not available yet, but Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said that long-term efforts to refurbish the tunnel would include requests for federal money.
At least nine cars were carrying hazardous chemicals. Two cars of hydrochloric acid are closest to the tunnel's southern entrance near Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play. Their game against the Anaheim Angels was canceled last night. It was the third day of cancellations this week, with each canceled game costing the team $1.5 million.
The Department of Public Works has stopped attempts to repair a water-main break above the tunnel fire at the intersection of Howard and Lombard streets because of concerns for the crews below.
"We are nervous because the water-main break is just above that tunnel. We can't dig under here because we don't know how stable the tunnel is, and we don't want it to collapse on the firefighters," said Kurt Kocher, a public works spokesman.
Howard and Lombard streets, two main downtown Baltimore arteries, were still closed to commuters yesterday.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide