What To Know: Ohio Train Derailment

February 13, 2023

Initially, with most environmental spills, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of material that has been released into the air, water, and soil.

James Lee with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, following a train derailment in Ohio. Lee continued, “The assessment phase that will occur after the emergency is over will help to determine that information.”
  • Who/What: Just more than a week ago, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed and started a chemical fire. The accident created a toxic plume and led to a mandatory evacuation of neighborhoods in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Following the crash, officials “repeatedly told residents that air quality and water supplies were untainted.
  • What is vinyl chloride? Some of the tankers that overturned were carrying liquid vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogen and mutagen. It can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes and cause reproductive damage, headaches, sleepiness and dizziness. “It has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, brain, lungs and blood” (CNN Health). Last week, emergency workers and first responders vented the tankers carrying vinyl chloride, spilled it into a trench and conducted a controlled release to burn off the chemical.
  • Where: East Palestine, Ohio, close to the Pennsylvania state line
  • When: The train derailed on Friday, February 3. A mandatory evacuation was ordered on Sunday, February 5, and the evacuation order was lifted on Wednesday, February 7 after “air samples showed no dangerous levels of toxins” (CBS News).
  • Why / How: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – which is leading the investigation into the derailment – has said the cause of the derailment was due to a mechanical issue with one of the rail car’s axles.

Why It Matters: While the evacuation order was lifted on Wednesday, people throughout the area continue to raise questions (and in some cases, lawsuits) as they try to understand what chemicals were released into the air and whether their homes are safe. The NTSB has also obtained videos indicating the train had a fiery axle at least 20 miles prior to the crash, raising questions about when the crew was alerted of this.

Something To Consider: A water utility company in neighboring West Virginia has said that although they have measured no change in the “raw water at its Ohio River intake,” the company will begin to take precautions in case it needs to have an alternate water source following the Ohio train derailment (The Associated Press).

East Palestine Train Derailment (U.S. EPA)

After a train derailment, Ohio residents are living the plot of a movie they helped make (CNN Health)

Residents wonder whether it’s safe to return after toxic train derailment (The Washington Post)

by Jenna Lee,