St. Landry

Aug 7, 2013 11:26 PM by Erin Steuber

Farmers Asked to Stop Draining Fields in Lawtell Area

As we first told you last night, what appeared to be haz-mat crews worked through the night at a drainage canal not far from the tracks. That's where a tan substance was seen floating on the surface of the water. Sources tell us that substance is a chemical called dodecanol, an ingredient in detergents. According to the Department of Environmental Quality, there's no chance that chemical could have made it into the drinking water. Now DEQ is asking farmers near the accident site to stop draining their fields.

August is harvest season for rice and to prepare for that the flooded fields have to be drained. While a majority of fields near the derailment site were drained before the accident, now there are several that have to wait, potentially delaying harvest.

"Well, as they flush that water out it's coming down through some of those ditches that still have some of the material present in some of the vegetation," said Paul Miller with DEQ.

Systems are now in place to help catch and filter that substance on the surface of the water. While experts say it's not harmful to humans, it can threaten marine life depending on the concentration of the contamination.

"The materials that are in the ditches, we'll be here until the last of it is cleaned out of those ditches, properly managed and ultimately disposed," said Miller.

The hope is to keep the contamination contained as clean-up continues by asking farmers to stop draining their fields until further notice.

"It's been indicated that there was some water released in the recent days that has assisted some of the contaminate to be pushed further along than they had anticipated," said Vincent Deshotel a county agent with the LSU Ag Center.

Without draining the fields it may mean a late harvest for some of these rice farmers. But after rice season comes crawfish season for many of these fields.

"Depending on the concentrations that are found through water testing, it's unclear right now what kind of effects it may have on irrigation waters as far as crawfish are concerned," said Deshotel.

Union Pacific tells us they are still working to figure out exactly how much of each chemical spilled during the derailment. But crews are continuing to clean, test and monitor the water. For now, DEQ and the Ag Center are advising farmers not to use any of the water in the drainage canals in the Lawtell area. And if you have livestock that are exposed to any of those ditches, they recommend providing another water source until further notice.


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