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Residents allowed to return to homes

HARVARD - Residents who live near the train derailment in Lawrence have been allowed to return to their homes. The McHenry County Sheriff’s Department said there is no immediate danger to the public.

Harvard Asst. Fire Chief Alan Styles learned that they were going to be able to stabilize the tank car that is the biggest threat, get ComEd in, and hopefully allow residents to start moving back into their houses by mid-afternoon, tentatively about 2 p.m.

A short time after Styles made the 2 p.m. remark, the sheriff's department put out a written statement saying that the onsite hazmat team won't have a more specific timeline until this afternoon when they further inspect the damage tanker.

Dozens of residents showed up at a press conference Tuesday morning to express their concerns about getting back into their homes and wanting to know when they could get home to check on pets.

Officials then told residents that they may not be able to return until Friday, but Harvard fire officials were more optimistic later Tuesday morning.

A Union Pacific freight train derailed shortly before 4 p.m. Monday – about the same time that two tornadoes ripped through the area. The Lawrence train tracks north of Ramer Road remain closed until further notice.

Federal and state Environmental Protection Agency officials, who are assisting with the investigation and spill cleanup, said they have concerns about groundwater and air contamination.

At this point, ethylene oxide is no longer leaking from the train, but the chemical is flammable and cause for concern, EPA officials noted. The chemical, a carcinogen, can cause kidney damage with limited exposure, according to Al Schlick, area Haz-Mat team leader and division chief of the Wauconda Fire Department.

Displaced residents were able to leave Harvard High School, set up as a make-shift shelter, at 11:30 p.m. and are staying with relatives and at area hotels, according to officials.

The McHenry County Housing Authority is helping displaced residents with housing placement and the American Red Cross is providing debit cards for food and other expenses.

The Union Pacific Railroad will reimburse residents for food and hotel costs and other out-of-pocket expenses.

For information on recovering expenditures, call Union Pacific at 312-777-2023 or 312-777-2026.

The spill caused authorities to evacuate more than 100 homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the Lawrence-area train derailment – more than 100 homes in all.

Immediately after the derailment and spill, Harvard fire officials put in a call for a joint hazardous materials team from McHenry and Lake counties and evacuated 100 yards around the scene. That was expanded to a half-mile radius around the scene, and then a 1.5-mile radius.

Limited exposure to ethylene oxide can cause respiratory irritation and lung injury, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said. Prolonged exposure can lead to cancer, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization, as well as having reproductive effects OSHA said.

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