A bridge that crosses the Yellowstone River in Montana collapsed early Saturday, plunging portions of a freight train carrying hazardous materials into the rushing water below.
The train cars were carrying asphalt and sulfur, said David Stamey, Stillwater County’s chief of emergency services. Officials shut down drinking water intakes downstream while they evaluated the danger. An Associated Press reporter witnessed a yellow substance coming out of some of the tank cars.
However, Stamey said there was no immediate danger for the crews working at the site, and the hazardous material was being diluted by the swollen river. There were eight rail cars in the river or on the part of the bridge that collapsed.
The train crew was safe and no injuries were reported, Montana Rail Link spokesman Andy Garland said in a statement.
Railroad crews were at the scene in Stillwater County, near the town of Columbus, about 40 miles (about 64 kilometers) west of Billings. The area is in a sparsely populated section of the Yellowstone River Valley, surrounded by ranch and farmland. The river there flows away from Yellowstone National Park, which is about 110 miles (177 kilometers) southwest.
"We are committed to addressing any potential impacts to the area as a result of this incident and working to understand the reasons behind the accident," Garland said.
In neighboring Yellowstone County, officials said they instituted emergency measures at water treatment plants due to the "potential hazmat spill" and asked residents to conserve water.
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. The river was swollen with recent heavy rains, but it's unclear whether that was a factor.
The Montana Disaster Emergency Services has been notified. Federal Railroad Administration officials were at the scene.
Kelly Hitchcock of the Columbus Water Users shut off the flow of river water into an irrigation ditch downstream from the collapsed bridge to prevent contents from the tank cars from reaching nearby farmland. The Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office called the group Saturday morning to warn it about the collapse, Hitchcock said.
The Yellowstone saw record flooding in 2022 that caused extensive damage to Yellowstone National Park and adjacent towns in Montana.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that sulfur is a common element used as a fertilizer as well as an insecticide, fungicide and rodenticide.