COLUMBUS COUNTY -- Twenty years after a train derailment in Columbus County officials are finally looking into ways to clean up the mess left behind. The derailment lead to a big coal spill. People who live in the town of Sandyfield say the coal has been a safety hazard for years. And with help from federal authorities, the problem may finally be resolved. Train after train has chugged past the spot in the small Columbus County town of Sandyfield where -- more than 20 years ago -- a derailed car spilled nearly 200 tons of coal. Sandyfield Mayor Perry Dixon said, "Been waiting on the railroad to maybe take care of the problem, you know, but it's gotten serious now because it is in a residential area." Claudia Bray lives next to tracks. She said, "It has potential to get out of control and possibly spread to where I am and burn my home." Bray lives adjacent to the train tracks. She says the area where the coal was spilled will spontaneously smolder, giving off potentially toxic fumes and posing a threat of wildfire. "My concern is it igniting at a time when there's no one there to report it," Bray said. The coal has already caused a number of small forest fires. The state Forest Service has even created a fire line to prevent the fires from spreading. A few weeks ago Bray filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has prompted railroad company CSX to act. "I don't think it should've waited 20 years because it's a hazard as far as the fire, the forestry and the wooded area. But hopefully they'll get it resolved soon," Bray said. A spokesman for CSX says the company has two options: either remove the coal all together or inject a solution into the ground that would stop the coal from smoldering. A decision on what option to take is expected within the next two weeks. A CSX spokesman said he wasn't sure the company was aware that the mess was a major problem. He also added that the company is responding to it now and hopes to have it cleaned up soon.
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