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Train carrying hazardous sulfur derails in Whatcom County

caption: A BNSF Railway freight train passes through Shoreline, Washington, in January 2021.
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A BNSF Railway freight train passes through Shoreline, Washington, in January 2021.

A BNSF Railway freight train derailed in Whatcom County late Tuesday night, with six cars going off the rails near the town of Custer, Washington.

At least two railcars containing molten sulfur — a hazardous material used in oil refining and paper milling and transported at about 290 degrees Fahrenheit — tipped over on their sides.

Officials say there were no injuries and no spill. Local officials closed Portal Way, the main route into the town of Custer, for the day at BNSF's request.

“Our priority is always life safety, and it is gratifying that there was and is no risk to the public from this event,” Whatcom County Sheriff Donnell “Tank” Tanksley said in a press release.

This is the same stretch of tracks where an apparently sabotaged oil train — its brakes and couplings disabled — pulled apart and crashed into itself, bursting into flames, in 2020.

RELATED: Sabotage caused Washington oil-train disaster, rail union says

The cause of Tuesday’s crash is under investigation.

“The train was not carrying crude oil,” BNSF Railway spokesperson Lena Kent said by email. Kent did not respond to KUOW’s questions on the size, destination, and origin of the train. Kent said BNSF’s main rail line, used by freight trains and Amtrak trains passing between Canada and the United States, was not affected.

According to a federal hazardous materials database for emergency responders, molten sulfur cools and solidifies quickly if it spills.

"Exercise caution walking on the surface of a spill to avoid breakthrough into pockets of molten sulfur below the crust," the CAMEO Chemicals database warns.

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