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Removal of derailed train cars in Whatcom County begins

The tanker train hauling crude oil derailed near Custer on Dec. 22. Environmental cleanup of the site could take months.

CUSTER, Wash. — Officials with the Department of Ecology are removing the train cars that derailed in Whatcom County this week. 

Cleanup began Monday while investigators determine the cause of the derailment.

The tanker train hauling crude oil derailed near the town of Custer, Wash. on Dec. 22. An estimated six train cars derailed, and a spokesperson for BNSF Railways said three cars ruptured, spilling an unknown amount of crude oil onto the ground.

Crews worked the weekend to remove the remaining oil from the train cars and will transport it to its final destination -- a refinery in Ferndale. Once that's finished, the train cars can start to be removed, officials said.

Despite the oil spill, Department of Ecology spokesperson David Byers said that the environmental impacts from the spill appear to be minimal. 

He said there were no known impacts to wildlife and the department doesn't believe oil flowed into any waterways or bodies of water. But the department is continuing to investigate and monitor for any impacts to wetlands or other areas.

The derailment prompted a joint response, including the FBI, Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, Washington State Patrol, Whatcom County Emergency Management, and local fire agencies. 

No one was injured in the derailment, but people living nearby had to evacuate for several hours. The train tracks in that area have since reopened.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. Federal investigators are assisting local authorities in determining what caused the train to go off the tracks. 

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