Plans by the Southern Pacific railroad to dump 15,000 cubic yards of sodium bicarbonate into Owens Lake have run afoul of a group of Inyo County residents, who fear the sand-like material could be a health hazard.
Railroad officials said they are running out of places to take the sodium bicarbonate, which remains heaped in a residential area of San Bernardino where it spilled from a runaway freight train on May 12. It was mined from Owens Lake and destined for the Port of Los Angeles when the train jumped the tracks, killing four people.
Under pressure to clean up the spillage, Southern Pacific made plans to transport the sodium bicarbonate, also called trona, to Owens Lake and put it back in the hole where it came from. The trucks were set to roll Friday.
Then folks in the Owens Valley got wind of it.
"We're fighting this one hot and heavy," said Mike Ushman, who lives in the town of Keeler on the edge of the mostly dry Owens Lake bed. Ushman and fellow residents worry that the trona is tainted with diesel fuel from the train's locomotives and from incinerated metals and gasoline that rained over the wreckage when a nearby pipeline ruptured and caused an explosion 13 days after the derailment.