Case Study

High-Octane Environmental Response


While traveling through the heart of the Midwest, a train transporting ethanol derailed. More than a dozen tank cars were breached causing an intense fire. Even worse was the release of tens of thousands of gallons of denatured ethanol to the surrounding environment, including a tributary leading to a major interstate waterway. State, federal, and local emergency and environmental agencies descended upon the derailment site, each with its own agenda and set of requirements. Our client was under tremendous pressure to promptly address the risks presented by the release of large quantities of ethanol. Within a matter of days, the state and local governments filed an enforcement action demanding quick action. Local media closely followed the matter.

Transportation Team Involvement

Our client, a Class I Railroad, implemented its emergency response plan and quickly and expertly responded to the incident with a team of in-house and outside professionals. The client looked to the Freeborn Transportation Team to address most all matters associated with the legal obligations and practical circumstances arising out of this environmental incident. The Transportation Team handled negotiations with state and federal environmental and natural resource agencies, as well as the local government. Freeborn worked with experts in environmental response and cleanup, chemistry, toxicology, hydrology, fate and transport modeling, accident and burn reconstruction, and natural resource damages.


The client entered into a number of voluntary agreements with the state and local governments to investigate and address any remaining ethanol in the environment. State and local governments complimented the railroad on its response and the parties are working toward a final resolution. Through thorough air and groundwater testing, the railroad established that there was no health risk to nearby citizens. Additionally, through the efforts of a team of experts, the railroad developed a scientific white paper showing that the derailment and resulting release of ethanol did not cause the substantial natural resource damages claimed by the state.