A train carrying hazardous chemicals went off the tracks in Jefferson County, GA on Sunday night. Potentially threatening materials leaked from the train cars as a product of the accident.
As crews worked to assess the damage, officials ordered an evacuation for those who lived in the area. The evacuation was lifted and city leaders told people they could return to their homes around 7AM the next morning.
Jefferson County Emergency Management confirms hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide were the chemicals that leaked from the train.
On Monday, we sent NewsChannel 6’s Ashley Osborne to find out more about these chemicals. She talked to Augusta University’s Dr. Thomas Crute who is the Chemistry Department chair and he is also a professor of Chemistry.
Dr. Crute points out that you probably have hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet; however, that bottle is only about 2% hydrogen peroxide. The chemical is used industrially in much higher strengths and that is when it can be dangerous and the same applies for hydrochloric acid.
“Hydrochloric acid is an acid,” explains Dr. Crute. “It’s a gas that is normally dissolved in water. Really really concentrated is industrial hydrochloric acid. A little bit lesser would be something like muriatic acid.
He says you can find a form of hydrochloric acid at the hardware store and it is typically used to take cement off of bricks or to clean a pool.
“Most of the time people have no need for it, but industrially it’s a common ingredient,” says Dr. Crute. He says factories and plants use hydrochloric acid for a variety of industrial processes.
Dr. Crute was a professor of Chemistry in Augusta 2005. He remembers the train wreck that killed 9 people after a chlorine spill in Graniteville, South Carolina. Sunday January 6th of 2019 was the 14 year anniversary of the Graniteville accident and the same day a train derailed in Jefferson County.
Dr. Crute says hydrochloric acid can be deadly just like chlorine.
“I think they are both equally dangerous,” he says. “Both of them are going to be corrosive. They will damage your skin. They will damage your respiratory tract. They are toxic, you can breathe it and you will die from it… Obviously, the greater the distance, the more dilute the materials are and your risk goes down.”
Thankfully, there were no deaths in the train accident in Jefferson County on Sunday.