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A deadly train derailment occurred in Minot, North Dakota, on January 18, 2002. The derailment occurred at 1:40 a.m. C.S.T. on the western outskirts of Minot, resulting in a massive anhydrous ammonia leak. A total of 31 cars derailed in the incident. Fifteen (15) tankers were carrying the anhydrous ammonia, each carrying 30,000 gallons. At least 7 of the tankers completely ruptured, releasing over 200,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia. Much of the chemical vaporized in the sub-zero air, forming a toxic cloud that drifted over much of Minot in the early morning hours. As a result of the spill of anhydrous ammonia, one man died and numerous others were treated for chemical exposure. A large number of residents living near the derailment site were evacuated.
The derailment is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The initial conclusion of the National Transportation Safety Board is that the train derailed due to rail separation.
Medical literature indicates that exposure to anhydrous ammonia can lead to nasopharyngeal and tracheal burns, bronchial and alveolar edema, and airway destruction. It can also cause skin burns and related skin conditions, including dermatitis. Long-term consequences can include chronic lung disease from inhalation, cough, asthma, and lung fibrosis. Ulceration and perforation of the cornea can occur months and weeks after exposure to the anhydrous ammonia, and blindness may ensue. Cataracts and glaucoma are also potential effects. Competent medical care should be sought if symptoms develop after exposure to anhydrous ammonia.
Lawyers with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. are presently investigating the cause of the derailment and the long-term health affects to those exposed to the anhydrous ammonia.
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