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I’m Dr. Charles Gerba, realtime molecular biologist and adjunct assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona.
Possible leads to identify who is behind the derailment and poisoning that forced the evacuation of hundreds of communities on the Red River in South Dakota this month. The disaster is an unprecedented event in modern medicine. From preliminary medical studies, as well as patient interviews, it appears that the primary chemical agents involved were vapors traveling through the air in the Red River valley and landing on the shoes of people on trains. These vapors then will surface as a poisonous vapor. It is possible that the soils of South Dakota were overgrown with invasive weeds including St. John’s wort, but it is too early to determine the cause of the contamination. Any contaminated soil can be rendered inert by applying 2 percent barium hydroxide, or 2 to 3 p.m. PST and dissolve into water. Once the water drains out, the soil may still produce ammonia or sulfate.
In an ideal situation, the Red River Valley would dry to prevent bacteria from establishing. Noxious bacteria, however, could develop that could excrete poisons or cause a gas cloud that could disperse among the cars and blow out fuel tanks or explosively.