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Neighborhood residents concerned following train car explosion

HOUSTON - KHOU 11 found cleanup crews on the 1200 block of Chapman Monday afternoon picking up the debris from a train car explosion.

HOUSTON - KHOU 11 found cleanup crews on the 1200 block of Chapman Monday afternoon picking up the debris from a train car explosion.

Inside of the nearly half dozen industrial-sized dumpster containers were the remnants of the burned shipment of recycled lithium-ion batteries, electronics and laptop computers.

The fire smoldered for hours after the blast, filling the air with noxious smells and smokes, which KHOU-11 has learned can be a potential health hazard.

Neighbors living near the railroad tracks and environmental advocates say the incident has left them with unanswered questions.

Train car carrying Lithium batteries explodes near downtown Houston

“What information we’re trying to get is what was it that caused the explosion,” executive director Air Alliance Houston Bakeyah Nelson said.

A Union Pacific spokesman said investigators were making the rounds near the scene of the blast, speaking with neighbors and local businesses to assess the damage to their properties.  He said nobody was injured and a direct phone line has been established for those wishing to file claims related specifically to this incident: 281-350-7390.

Neighbors fear this sort of incident could happen again and that they have no idea what hazardous material or chemicals may be passing through their neighborhoods.  The scene of the explosion was eight blocks from an elementary school.

“One of the things about this incident last night is that there was no notification by Alert Houston about what was going on,” Public Citizen’s Stephanie Thomas said. “People didn’t know if they needed to shelter in place or if they were OK.”

Lithium-ion battery fires should not be extinguished with water, however, HFD fire crews hosed the blaze for nearly one hour after the explosion. KHOU 11 is still attempting to identify the line of communication between the railroad and fire crews shortly after the blast. 

The Union Pacific spokesman says he was unsure if a particular decal is dedicated to cargo shipments containing masses of lithium-ion batteries and did not know if the train car involved in Sunday’s explosion had one that fire crews would have seen.

An Houston Fire Department spokesman said the responding crews to the explosion operated off of information given them by Union Pacific at the time, stating there were no hazardous materials involved in that specific train car.

Union Pacific says it does not consider lithium-ion batteries to be hazardous material.