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Route 3 closed briefly as vapor cloud drifts near Wood River; shelter-in-place order lifted

Route 3 closed briefly as vapor cloud drifts near Wood River; shelter-in-place order lifted

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Residents in southwest Wood River warned to stay inside, shut windows after chemical leak

The Wood River Fire Department sprays water onto rail cars that were venting sulfuric acid on Thursday, June 3, 2021, in Wood River. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

WOOD RIVER — Authorities lifted a shelter-in-place order in Wood River at 6 a.m. Friday, saying residents were allowed to leave their homes and open windows.

The measure affected residents in southwest Wood River after rail cars were venting spent sulfuric acid. Nearly 500 residents in neighborhoods near the rail yard had been told to turn off HVAC systems and close windows.

Shortly after the shelter-in-place order was lifted Friday, officials closed a portion of Route 3, as a vapor cloud drifted over the area, authorities said. Wood River police said the road was reopened about an hour later. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters and a hazardous materials crew spent Thursday spraying water on four rail cars to dissipate the vapors, and a spokesman for Norfolk Southern said the air was “within safe parameters.”

The problem was first detected in one rail car on Wednesday when vapors leaked and sickened a rail worker. Norfolk Southern spokesman Jeff DeGraff said the sulfuric acid had become over-pressurized and was venting from four cars by Thursday.

The shelter-in-place order had covered southwest Wood River, essentially south of Highway 143, north of West Third Street, east of South Sixth Street and west of 12th Street. Sixth Street was closed south of Highway 143 to Highway 111.

Exposure to sulfuric acid can burn the skin and eyes, cause headaches and vomiting, and irritate the lungs and lead to breathing problems. Authorities said the chemical in Wood River was considered spent sulfuric acid, which means it was diluted and partly neutralized.

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