Oil spill keeps people from Wabamun Lake

No one should dip a toe into Wabamun Lake until an oil spill following a train derailment is cleaned up, health officials say.

No one should dip a toe into Wabamun Lake until an oil spill following a train derailment is cleaned up, health officials say.

Forty-three train cars derailed near Wabamun Wednesday. (CP Photo)

"We actually are taking some water samples this morning, both from the lake water and from the wells in the area, to test the level of contamination," Dr. Gerry Predy, Capital Health's medical officer of health said.

He advises that people stay away from the lake just west of Edmonton – no swimming, fishing or boating – until it's determined how much bunker fuel oil spilled from the train cars into the water.

"In terms of human health effects, the most typical one is just skin irritation," David Schindler, a water expert said, adding he'd keep pets away as well. "I don't think any humans will be silly enough to ingest it. But the symptoms in humans are nausea and diarrhea and nervous system damage."

Early Wednesday morning, 43 cars on a west-bound CN train derailed as they were passing between Wabamun Lake and a row of cottages.

Twenty-six of the cars were carrying bunker fuel oil, used in asphalt production and to power ships and barges.

CN spokesman Jim Feeny said they are trying to determine how much of the heavy oil leaked from the rail cars and how much got into the lake.

Additional booms were placed on the lake Thursday to try to contain the spill, which has been spreading because of high winds.

And TransAlta has halted production at its shoreline plant, because it uses water from the lake to convert coal to energy.

"I guess our first priority was to protect the power plant from damage and [we] boomed the inlet canal to ensure that any oil didn't come in and foul the condensers and piping and stuff in the plant," Ralph Leriger, a TransAlta spokesman, said.

Leriger wouldn't say how much shutting down the plant will cost the company.

Some residents are concerned that CN is spending more time fixing its track than worrying about the lake.

"Backhoes, hundreds of people, and they're working hard, and they'll work hard to fix [the track], but they don't have one man on this lake right now," Jay VanRassel said. "They've got all the resources, all the equipment, all the money to do it."

VanRassel thinks he and his neighbours should park their cars on the track until all the oil is removed from the lake.

Resident Agnes Rayner says she thinks CN will take care of the clean up.

"We've been living here for close to 50 years," Cliff Haderer added. "We've seen this lake come and go. Mother Nature takes care of it."

The 43 cars – 26 of which were carrying the heavy oil – were part of a 140-car train heading from Edmonton to Vancouver early Wednesday morning. About 5:20 a.m., as the train was passing between Wabamun Lake and a row of cottages, the cars left the track.

"It was just a loud bang," resident Dean Fodor said. "Everybody shot out of bed. It sounded like a car crash in the city. It definitely woke everyone up."

Twenty-two residents in the area were removed from their homes as a precaution. One of the derailed cars was carrying toluene, a hazardous petrochemical used to make paint thinner, nail polish and adhesives, but Feeny says that container was intact after the accident.

The derailment has closed CN's main line, and Feeny says they hope to reopen it by the end of the week, while the clean up will take at least another eight days.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation.