Looking Back: Doon Oil Spill

Alex Van Den Top–Staff Writer

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Photo by KTTC Newsroom

June 22, 2018, will be a date that’s hard to forget in northwest Iowa. According to reports posted by the Des Moines Register , a 31-car derailment on the BNSF railway in the Doon/Rock Valley area spilled over 200,000 gallons of crude oil into small-town communities in the dead of night.

The accident occurred after the Siouxland area saw days of heavy rain, which caused floodwaters to cover the train tracks. According to Doon resident Jacob Leloux, most of the residents didn’t even hear it happen.

“Around 4:30 in the morning, one of our neighbors started pounding on our door telling us there had been a train accident,” Leloux said. “I have an uncle who owns most of the property where the spill happened, and it just happened to be able to contain [the spill] very well. The oil that didn’t get contained got carried downstream. Not much of it got into people’s basements.”

The plot of land mentioned by Leloux happened to be a lifesaver for BNSF; it kept the oil contained within a small area. While the majority of Doon citizens did not have to deal with cleaning oil out of their basements, Leloux said the fumes from the oil were so bad that BNSF personnel nearly advised an entire evacuation of the city.

Despite being plagued with a disastrous concoction of floodwaters and oil, the small-town community came together to get the mess cleaned up. According to Leloux, BNSF personnel were wary of Doon residents during the initial stages of cleanup, fearing it would be a similar scene to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Instead, they were greeted with food. Lots of it.

“They actually thought we might’ve put something in [the food] and made some of the guys lower down on the totem pole try it out first,” Leloux said with a smile. “When nothing happened to them, they figured it was safe to eat.” Leloux added that most of the community felt the railway was not at fault.

Although the uncommon kindness of Doon helped the coordination and organization of cleanup efforts, the town still has a long way to go. It could be as long as 18 months before the area of the spill is completely cleared of oil.

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