Southern Pacific Railroad Metam Sodium Spill

State TrusteeState of California
AO Bureau

Also Known As

Incident Type




Case Status



Sacramento river


Contaminants of Concern Include

Affected DOI Resources Include

Migratory Birds

Case Description

On July 14, 1991, a Southern Pacific train derailed on a stretch of track known as the Cantara Loop while crossing the upper Sacramento River near Mount Shasta, just north of Dunsmuir, California. Approximately 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a chemical typically used as a soil fumigant and herbicide, spilled into the Sacramento River. When metam sodium is released into the environment, it forms both liquid and gas compounds that are highly toxic to people, plants, and animals. Residents of the town of Dunsmuir were forced to evacuate. Contaminated water killed fish, other aquatic organisms, and plants. It also seeped into the soil, entering the shallow ground water aquifers surrounding the river banks. Terrestrial wildlife were affected not only by the contamination of their water supply, but also by the gases in the air. In total, air, water, soil, plants, and animals along a 36-mile stretch of the Sacramento River were exposed to metam sodium. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), and other trustees, conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to determine the effects of the spill on fish and wildlife resources. As a result of this assessment, a $38 million settlement was reached with the responsible parties. A portion of this settlement money was earmarked as compensation for the injured natural resources. These funds are allocated annually through a grant program overseen by the Cantara Trustee Council. Funds are provided for projects involving natural resource acquisition and protection, resource restoration and enhancement, resource recovery monitoring, and public outreach.

Credit: California Dept of Fish and Wildlife

Page 1 of 1
 Document TypeDocument NameDocument Date


 Factsheet Fact Sheet 01/31/2002


 MOA/MOU Trustees Agreement 07/28/1994


 Restoration Plan Restoration Plan 03/11/1997


 Consent Decree Consent Decree 03/11/1994


 Other Final Report  

No publications have been entered for this case.

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Case Contact

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife Office

Sacramento, CA | (916) 414-6600 |

Case Trustees

AO Bureau
State TrusteeState of California

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