A substance that spilled onto the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad crossing on Oct. 12, halting train and vehicle traffic in the area for hours, turned out to be some type of industrial lubricant, the village’s fire chief has confirmed.
About 10 to 15 plastic bags containing the substance were found on the west side of Maple Avenue in the grade crossing a little after 9 a.m., and at least couple of the bags had burst due to vehicles running over them, spilling the contents onto the rail crossing and roadway.
It is believed that the bags fell off a vehicle crossing the tracks on the morning of Oct. 12, but officials still haven’t pinpointed a source for the materials. Lenzi said that the BNSF Railroad shipping manifests show that no such substance was being transported by train around that time.
While fire officials believed that the substance was not a risk to the general public, it took about 12 hours before the fire department cleared the scene. The reason for that, according to Lenzi, is that fire officials were getting conflicting readings from meters begin used to test the substance at the site.
When samples were taken, said Lenzi, the test results from Brookfield Fire Department’s meter were different from meters being used by MABAS Division 10, a consortium of fire agencies serving the west and southwest suburbs.
“We needed to certify that our meters were picking up the correct chemical makeup,” Lenzi said. “The issue was the meter we had was telling us one thing, and the division’s meter was telling something different.”
The lubricant’s packaging was also no help to officials, said Lenzi. While there were numbers on the plastic bags, there were no other identifying marks.
According to Lenzi, the response not only included the massive Division 10 response on the ground. Fire officials also reached out to the FBI and other federal officials, for help.
Eventually, the Illinois National Guard deployed its Civilian Support Team’s portable lab to Brookfield. The team, which Lenzi described as the HAZMAT experts in the state, is headquartered in Peoria and took hours to get on scene.
The Civilian Support Team’s tests concluded that the substance was a harmless heavy, oil-based lubricant.
While train traffic reopened at about 4:45 p.m., Maple Avenue remained closed until about 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 12.
“We always have to err on the side of caution,” Lenzi said of the size of the response compared to the danger the substance posed. “We wanted to make sure there wasn’t a greater hazard than what it ended up being.”