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More Than 3,000 Tons Of Soil, Vegetation Sent So Far To Landfill After Northwest Iowa Oil Spill

An example of a landfill. Not the one in Dickinson County.

Cleanup of a June crude oil spill in northwest Iowa is expected to continue through October. Officials from one county in the region recently met with the state and those involved in the cleanup to learn more about the process.
In June, a BNSF Railway freight train derailed in Lyon County and 10 tank cars spilled an estimated 160,000 gallons of crude oil into the Rock River. Waste is being transported to a Dickinson County landfill.

BNSF Railway has so far delivered 3,500 tons of contaminated soil, corn and other vegetation to the Dickinson County landfill. In an email to Iowa Public Radio, BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the company is now working to repair an area that lies between BNSF tracks, Garfield Ave. and 270th St.

At an Aug. 27 meeting in Dickinson County, local officials met with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, BNSF Railway and Waste Management, the company that owns the landfill. As residents have previously expressed concerns about the materials going to the landfill and the proximity of the landfill to the Iowa Great Lakes, Bill Leupold, the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors chairman, said he asked questions about the durability of the landfill liner.

“One of the DNR personnel passed around a sample of what that was,” Leupold said. “Basically it’s about a 3/16th inch thick piece of hard plastic. I had always imagined it was like the plastic you throw over silage piles, or garbage bags.”

Leupold said he was told the liner can last 500 years. 

"I had always imagined it was like the plastic you throw over silage piles, or garbage bags." Dickinson County Supervisor Bill Leupold, commenting on the landfill liner.

County officials were stumped by a timeline they were provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on when cleanup of the derailment site started.

“The timeline they provided to us showed them [BNSF Railway’s contractor] delivering this material to our landfill before any testing was done,” Leupold said. 

Julie Ketchum, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, said soil and other waste from the derailment were tested and approved safe for the Dickinson County Landfill on July 3.

“Which was prior to any waste being disposed of in the Dickinson landfill,” Ketchum said.

Waste was moved to the landfill starting July 11. Ketchum said between five and 20 trucks per day have been transporting the waste. In a previous interview with Iowa Public Radio, she said Waste Management would not accept material from the June oil spill if it contained any liquid. According to the company's website, no hazardous waste is accepted at the landfill.

The timelinethe DNR provided to Dickinson County residents at the meeting shows the events following the June 22 train derailment in Lyon County: Permit approvals, soil testing and delivery to the landfill.

Alex Murphy, a spokesman for the DNR, said when he put the timeline together for the meeting, the information given to his department was not fully up to date and “we were missing information we were not provided.”

Murphy said the DNR does not typically require companies to show them analytical testing for any samples taken, but a county supervisor had requested they put together a timeline on the events.

The DNR sent Iowa Public Radio an updated copy of the timeline that shows initial waste samples were collected June 29 by TestAmerica, the company that tested the soil. A report on the soil was issued July 3.

Per the updated timeline, DNR authorized BNSF to transfer the contaminated waste to the landfill in Dickinson County on July 3.

“The DNR is not required to review and approve analytical testing for waste loads sent to the landfills, but rather that is between the landfill and waste generator (WM and BNSF in this case) to ensure that hazardous wastes are not sent to the landfill,” a recent addition to the timeline says.

Leupold said he is confident Dickinson County’s concerns have been addressed. The county is looking into hiring an environmental consultant in the future who can interpret chemical results and translate them to the public.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.