On February 3rd just before 9 p.m. ET a Norfolk Southern train derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, a small town of only 4,800 people sitting near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. While no one was hurt in the accident the train was carrying about 20 cars of hazardous materials according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
What we know about the train:
The train was carrying 150 rail cars containing cargo, that was not hazardous. Those cars held cement, steel, and frozen vegetables, according to the trains manifest. When the train derailed, about three dozen cars derailed in total – 11 of which were some of the 20 containing hazardous material.
While the NTSB is not done with its preliminary report they plan to have that done within the next two weeks.
What was the ‘hazardous material’?
- Five of the derailed cars were carrying vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a manmade substance that is the key ingredient in PVC which is a widely used in a hard plastic resin form in the construction and health care sectors. When vinyl chloride is at room temperature, it is a sweet-smelling colorless gas. And it is typically transported in the form of compressed gas. Symptoms of exposure to vinyl chloride can range from respiratory issues like shortness of breath, to headaches and dizziness – though in extreme cases of chronic exposure or high level exposures can lead to liver damage and cancer.
- The EPA however has said that there were other hazardous chemicals on the train just this week. Those include, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene. All of which can cause humans irritation, dizziness, and headaches if exposed.
- And one tank of butyl acrylate. Which is typically used to make paint and caulk and was in a clear liquid form. According to NPR and the New Jersey Department of Health exposure to butyl acrylate can lead to headache, dizziness, nausea, and irritation to the nose, throat, and lungs.
What happened after the derailment?
After the train derailed and the 20 cars of hazardous materials were thrown off the tracks, a fire started. Over the weekend after the train derailed firefighters attempted to get the fire under control though they began to be increasingly worried about the rising temperatures of one single car – which they worried could cause an explosion. So after the risk of an explosion, which could have been catastrophic, reached high levels officials decided to start a controlled burn to eliminate risk which they described as a “controlled release.”
On February 6th they began to release the vinyl chloride, which they burned off in a controlled explosion to prevent any catastrophe. By February 8th the fire was finally fully extinguished and officials lifted the evacuation order. They tested the air quality and deemed it was safe for the people within the immediate area to return home.
What has come out since then:
Since these order to return were given many findings left the residents thinking better about going back home. As a result of the thick black smoke that covered a mile large radius in the skies of Ohio and Pennsylvania as a result of the “controlled explosion,” hydrogen chloride and phosgene were released into the air, potentially exposing roughly 2,000 people to these dangerous gases and carcinogenic particles. Within that black smoke, multiple different carcinogenic particles and toxic substances were dispersed around Ohio and Pennsylvania. While the aftermath of the train explosion can’t be judged immediately following, we’re already seeing some issues. Fish by the thousands are dead in the water, small pet and farm animals are reported to have died, and many people did not evacuate. In the years following, its unclear if disease and illness will hit the affected areas, however, negative health effects have already been reported.
Visited a local creek in East Palestine today. These waterways are still very polluted. It’s time for Norfolk Southern to finish the cleanup. Check this video out: pic.twitter.com/4lsHBmrMJj
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) February 16, 2023
What the funk – Has anyone seen water do this?pic.twitter.com/OEN4rIP6rd
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 16, 2023
What can the bi-product Phosgene do?
Due to the explosion, hydrogen chloride and phosgene were released into the air. These gases are toxic enough to humans and they were used as a primitive form of gas-based warfare in World War 1, as these compounds are more simple that than later-staged weapons.
According to KU Medical Center:
“Phosgene was much more effective and more deadly than chlorine, though one drawback was that the symptoms could sometimes take up to 48 hours to be manifest. The minimal immediate effects are lachrymatory. However, subsequently, it causes a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), leading to death. It is estimated that as many as 85% of the 91,000 gas deaths in WWI were a result of phosgene or the related agent, diphosgene (trichloromethane chloroformate).”
Residents of East Palestine, and surrounding areas, demand answers.
On Wednesday February 15th residents of the area gathered at a town hall in which they expected their questions would be heard by the government and they would finally have answers. Though Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did not show up and the Mayor was left to handle the residents who were growing in frustration alone. His response – he had not talked to the White House but once in the whole span of the disaster and when he did he didn’t get answers and was instead shot down on aid requests. Claiming it needed more than what the governments FEMA program could provide.
DOT Secretary Buttigieg Responds.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has broken his silence after nearly two weeks, finally making his first comments on the Ohio trail derailment and subsequent explosion that occurred on Feb. 3. Buttigieg didn’t visit Ohio or the affected areas, instead, he opted to Tweet about the situation.
Buttigieg took to Twitter, finally acknowledging the extremely dangerous situation for many in Ohio and Pennsylvania, taking no responsibility.
“In the wake of the East Palestine derailment and its impact on hundreds of residents, we’re seeing lots of newfound or renewed (and welcome) interest in our work on rail safety, so I wanted to share more about what we’ve been doing in this area,”
“We are making historic investments on rail safety through funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, work that accelerates this year and continue in the years to come.”
A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, commented on President Biden’s handling of the situation in East Palestine, Ohio, and made remarks that the Biden administration is attempting to look elsewhere in the world for conflicts and people to blame, meanwhile they ignore the situations going on within their own country.
Pence tears into Buttigieg for going AWOL:
Former President Mike Pence has torn into Buttigieg stating that the Ohio residents demand better leadership from his department.
“Where is the secretary of transportation?” Pence asked Thursday on “America Reports.”
“We had a supply chain crisis and apparently he was AWOL on that. FAA grounded airplanes… the secretary of transportation was missing in action and now we have this Ohio rail incident, and this is a moment where we ought to be hearing from the president, but at minimum, we ought to be hearing from members of the Cabinet that have responsibility over this area,” Pence said.
As of now residents are still scared to be in the area. The creeks are full of the bi-product, and some have left the area permanently. Experts have said the water is safe, as of Wednesday. Though that update only came one day after the governor’s office urged residents to drink water only if they boiled it first. Leaving a lot of questions in the minds of residents and no answers being given to them from the government or officials on the matter.